Frozen Four Preview: Michigan

Throughout the week, I’ll have posts on each of the teams playing in the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four. There is plenty of quality FF coverage across the internet, but I’ll try and give you something just a little different.

The University of Michigan is no stranger to success on the ice. Competing in its record 24th Frozen Four, the Wolverines have been one of the elite programs throughout the history of college hockey. However, Red Berenson’s crew has been without a national title since 1998, despite a bevy of elite talent coming through the program. If there’s one thing elite programs can’t stand, it’s title droughts.

The road to the national championship game goes right through the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, which has been one of college hockey’s best teams throughout the year. On Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET, two of the best programs in all of college hockey go head-to-head on ESPN2.

It should be a great showcase for what makes the college game great and I’d expect a spirited contest between two storied programs.

Coming up after the jump, a look at what stands out to me and what I’ll be watching when Michigan takes the ice.

Shawn Hunwick – A Feel Good Story

He wasn’t even supposed to be here. As a former walk-on goaltender, no one expected Shawn Hunwick to be the go-to goalie for one of the top programs in college hockey. However, a season-ending injury for Bryan Hogan opened the door for Hunwick last year, and he seized the opportunity, guiding Michigan to the CCHA title and earning CCHA tournament MVP honors.

While Hogan and Hunwick split time early in the season, it’s been Hunwick for the latter parts of the year and he’s been the last line of defense for Red Berenson throughout the CCHA tournament and the regionals. In fact, Hunwick was named the West regionals MVP for backstopping the Wolverines to close wins over Nebraska Omaha (3-2 OT), and Colorado College (2-1).

George Sipple, of the Detroit Free Press, has a great piece on Hunwick’s unlikely path to the starting job. Berenson told Sipple this about his former walk-on netminder:

“Shawn Hunwick is the No. 1 reason Michigan finished first in the CCHA,” Berenson said. “He’s been a consistent goalie, a big-game goalie, a player’s goalie. He’s had more shots than most goalies have faced in the past. He’s definitely been a difference maker.”

If the Wolverines have any hope of defeating the heavily favored Fighting Sioux, Hunwick is going to have to have the game of his life. Though, as he has shown in the past, expect the unexpected from Shawn Hunwick.

Prospects Aplenty

One thing Michigan rarely lacks is a bevy of pro prospects on it’s roster. You look across the NHL and many of the rosters will include a Michigan alum. When an NHL team drafts a player out of Michigan or one that plans to attend Michigan, that club will be very comfortable with that player’s development.

There’s a list below of all of Michigan’s drafted players, of which there are 13. In the meantime, here’s a few American prospects I think you should be keeping a close eye on.

Jon Merrill – In my UMD preview, I labeled Justin Faulk as the best freshman defenseman in the country. If Faulk’s No. 1, Merrill is probably No. 1-B. He’s another guy that I feel could jump into the pros after this season. He was the Devils first pick in 2010, early in the second round and that’s a team that could use a big puck-moving defenseman. It was a steal to get Merrill when they did, even though disciplinary concerns scared other teams off. Merrill has been a rock for this Michigan team and has put up a respectable 24 points, leading all Wolverine defensemen (ranks fourth overall on the team). He was also a standout for the U.S. National Junior Team in Buffalo. If he stays at Michigan, it’d probably only be for one more year, but I wouldn’t fault the Devils for jump-starting Merrill’s pro career by offering him a contract when this season is done.

Chris Brown – He’s another NTDP product, one of many on the Michigan roster, and he’s also a World Junior Championship veteran. Brown plays a physical game, but has shown he can contribute offensively. His numbers were down a bit this year, but the Phoenix Coyotes must be pleased with the way he’s continually rounding out his game. I think one more year at Michigan should be good for the power forward. He’s not too far off from his first pro contract.

Kevin Lynch – A second round pick for Columbus in 2009, Lynch hasn’t put up great numbers, but he may be starting to heat up. He had two big goals for Michigan against Nebraska Omaha in the regionals and I think he’ll only continue to get better. I think playing out his four years at Michigan can only benefit him. He was a big part of Team USA’s World U18 title in 2009 and as his role expands at Michigan, his numbers should go up.

Stellar Seniors

One thing that Michigan and North Dakota have in common is their impeccable senior classes. Michigan’s top three scorers, Carl Hagelin (48 pts.), Louie Caporusso (30 pts.) and Matt Rust (25 pts.), are fourth-year players for Red Berenson.

Michigan’s goaltending tandem includes seniors Hunwick and Hogan.

A total of eight seniors dot the Michigan roster and that experience will come in handy against another veteran-laden squad from North Dakota. The leadership of captain Carl Hagelin perhaps has never been more important to the Wolverines.

While many are picking the Fighting Sioux, it’s hard to count out this Michigan team. There’s no doubt this senior class isn’t going to go down without a fight.

Regardless of the outcome, Thursday night’s primetime match-up should be a dandy.

Michigan’s NHL Drafted Players

Player – NHL Team – Year, Round, Overall

Chris Brown – PHX – 2009, 2, 36
Jon Merrill – NJD – 2010, 2, 38
Brandon Burlon – NJD – 2008, 2, 52
Kevin Lynch – CBJ – 2009, 2, 56
Mac Bennet – MTL – 2009, 3, 79
Louie Caporusso – OTT – 2007, 3, 90
Matt Rust – FLA – 2007, 4, 101
Ben Winnett – TOR – 2007, 4, 104
Greg Pateryn – TOR – 2008, 5, 128
Carl Hagelin – NYR – 2007, 6, 168
David Wohlberg – NJD – 2008, 6, 172
Lee Moffie – SJS – 2010, 6, 188
Luke Moffatt – COL – 2010, 7, 197

Helpful Links

Michigan Ice Hockey’s Official Website
Michigan Roster and Bios
Michigan Season Statistics

For more news and notes on Frozen Four participants, be sure to check out College Hockey, Inc.’s website.

Coming up tomorrow, the last of the Frozen Four previews, focusing on the heavy favorite University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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