In a brand new installment available to TheWolverine.com’s premium users, former U-M hockey defenseman Dave Huntzicker (1998-01) will be breaking down the happenings of Red Berenson’s current team. This first one is free for everyone to get a taste of what Huntzicker will have to offer. The Wolverines stand 9-3 overall and are fifth in the CCHA with a 5-3 record in conference play. Today, Huntzicker talks about Michigan’s 3-3 record this season vs. Miami (Ohio), Ferris State and Ohio State, as well Michigan’s legitimacy as a national title contender.
A little background on Huntzicker. A 6-3, 205-pound defenseman Huntzicker was named an assistant captain as a senior. He played in two Frozen Fours, winning the national championship as a freshman in 1998 (also participated in 2001). During that magical season, Huntzicker was one of only four Wolverines to play in all 46 of Michigan’s games. He registered a plus/minus of +17, best among the freshmen, second best among the defensemen, and third best among the entire team.
On Michigan’s inconsistency in weekend matchups with Miami (L 8-3, W 2-1), Ferris State (L 6-5, W 3-2) and Ohio State (W 4-0, L 5-2):
“Developing the winning mentality, and consistency is a learned trait. You show up and expect to win but you don’t show up and win, especially when you have a lot of nights with three freshman defensemen and a sophomore goaltender. It’s not going to click, it’s not going to be really solid every night. Don’t get me wrong those guys have played very well this year, but as they get older they will learn how to perform every game, every play.”
Michigan will not always have upperclassmen at every position, though, shouldn’t the Wolverines still be able to win?
“I think eventually they will. I think the first three months of the season you will go through those knocks. If you’re a forward and you make a mistake a lot of times what happens is the puck leaves your zone. If you’re a defenseman and you make a mistake there is a good chance of a good scoring opportunity. If you’re the goalie and you make the mistake, the puck is in the back of the net, so as you can see if you have a more experienced defense and an experienced goaltender you can get away with having youth at forward, but it doesn’t really flip-flop very well. As the season goes on those guys will get better, and they should be where they need to be.”
Considering experience is at a premium, is it surprising Berenson has used three freshmen defenseman while junior Nick Martens has been on the bench?
“Well, both [freshman Tim] Cook and Martens are really good defensemen, and you can see that every time they play they contribute and make good plays. The thing you have with Nick is a junior with one solid year under his belt. If I remember correctly, he was in and out of the lineup and contributed when he got the opportunity his freshman year. At times you sort of wonder if we’d be better off with Nick, but I’m never going to second guess Red, because I’m not there every day in practice. For all I know Cook has the most upside of any of those guys out there and he just needs to learn.
“The other thing I will say about Red is he gives his freshmen a lot of opportunities and you’ll see that pay huge dividends at the end of the season when the freshman are playing like juniors. It’s an unfortunate situation for Nick because he’s a heck of a defenseman, and he’s just going to have to deal with stepping in and out [of the lineup] with Cook.”
Would it be dangerous for players to adopt an attitude that inconsistency is okay because it’s still early in the season?
“Absolutely. They have to have the mindset that they are going to win every game and at Michigan that is the mindset. I remember sitting in that locker room and when we lost that wasn’t acceptable. If we played outstanding and lost it still wasn’t acceptable. If we played a mediocre game and won that wasn’t acceptable.
“Red, [assistant coaches] Mel [Pearson] and Billy [Powers] and right on down through the other guys, Ian [Hume] and Rick Bancroft, Josh [Richelew] and David Harlock – they come in every day and they put in their best and it’s expected of the players to come in and put in their best. When you don’t, whether it’s because you’re tired, sick or just having a bad day, it’s got to be corrected.
“The mindset this team has to have – when I was there it was winning was the only acceptable thing, but not just winning, we had to win well. Red wants to win every game 10-0.
“You see a lot in football when a coach pulls back the reins and stops his team’s offense, but Red’s belief is that you develop good habits in those games and you should keep developing those habits. You don’t want to develop bad habits. So if it turns out 1-0 or 10-0 he wants you to play the same way all 60 minutes.”
How difficult is it to deal with that expectation as a player? Can making it to the Frozen Four if you don't win ever be good enough?
“I always felt a let down. When we didn’t win it all, I felt a letdown. Every year we were a contender and if you’re a contender and you really feel like you have a chance and you don’t win it, it’s like ‘Man what happened?’ You can’t sit there and point to one thing, it’s not one player, but it leaves you searching for answers.”
How about this year’s team, is it good enough to win the NCAA title? Or is it too young with a sophomore goalie, three freshmen defensemen and six freshmen or sophomore forwards?
“They’re a contender this year, absolutely. I mentioned [goalie] Al [Montoya] is a sophomore, you have the three freshmen playing a fair amount of minutes on defense, but by the end of the year they won’t be freshmen; they will be seasoned CCHA veterans.
“If anybody is sitting in the locker room, thinking this isn’t their year, next year is their year, they’re crazy, because they’re a contender. They are a legitimate contender. They have the offense to grind teams down. They have the defense that will punish and make great plays and do what’s necessary to win the game. Al’s the wildcard every night. When he’s on, look out; I don’t see any team ever beating him.
“If anyone of those are lacking a little bit -- if Al’s having a rough night, or any of the defensemen are having a rough night, you won’t get the result you want. But I look at this team as being a really scary teams in other people’s minds.”
Do you see any weakness, areas where Michigan might stumble?
“This is a complete team, top to bottom, first line through fourth line. You have some really good players sitting out every night. Joey Kautz is a really good player. He’s struggled for ice his entire career, but he’s a good player. He probably could have gone to a lot of different places and put in a lot of minutes for a team. We’ve talked about Nick – he’s been in and out and he’s a heck of a player.
“When you have that luxury as a coach you almost have to sit back and smile because you know that you can afford to have Andy Burnes go down and be able to insert a very good defenseman into the lineup, in Nick, to take his place. I think this team has it all, and now it just needs to find its rhythm.”