12B - The Michigan Daily - SportsWednesday - October 20, 2004
How Michigan's top defensive line is helped by their friendship off the ice
By Ian Herbert Daily Sports Writer
It's 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. The
coaches left the ice at Yost Ice Arena
more than 20 minutes ago. Some of the
players have already hit the showers, but a
few others stay after practice. Five of them
- including senior captain Eric Nystrom
and senior Milan Gajic - are crowded
around the net trying to slip one past goalie
Al Montoya. Gajic puts a rebound over Mon-
toya's blocker and celebrates with his stick.
raised in the air, mocking Montoya. The
sprints and drills are long over, and now it's
time for goofing off, shooting around and
But while it's fun and games at one end
of the ice, it's all business at the other.
Brandon Rogers and Matt Hunwick are at
the far end of the ice, still drilling away.
They start at center ice, dump the puck
into the zone, sprint after it and bring it
up out of the zone together. This is typi-
cal of Rogers, the senior alternate captain,
and Hunwick, the sophomore sensation.
The two of them can be found trying to
improve their chemistry long after the
allotted practice time is over. Sometimes
they do drills that work on their skills and
puck handling; sometimes they work on
their communication and ice sense. Even
before they became defensive line part-
ners, the two of them were two of the last
skaters off the ice.
"We both always stay out on the ice (after
practice) anyway, and it just makes sense
for us to be working on stuff together out
there," Hunwick said. "I think it's good to
have a partner who you can stay on the ice
with and work with and develop continuity
together and become better as a team."
When they finally leave the ice, if they
aren't going to spend time in the weight
room or the trainer's room, they get show-
ered and changed and head home for din-
ner and relaxation. They live together
- along with seniors Nystrom, Gajic,
Mike Woodford and Jason Ryznar and
sophomore T.J. Hensick. All of the guys
enjoy watching television - especially
hockey - on their two-TV setup in the
living room, but Rogers and Hunwick
have even more in common.
"He and I both are big "Seinfeld" guys,"
Hunwick said. "So we usually just try to get
some of that - watching them after prac-
tice or at night sometime. A couple other
guys like it, but I think, for the most part,
we're the biggest fans."
Whether it be "The Soup Nazi," "Festi-
vus" or "The Contest," the defensive line
pairing admits to watching an unhealthy
amount of Jerry, Elaine, George and
It's certainly not a requirement for a defen-
sive pair to be friends off of the ice - and
coach Red Berenson said that he didn't even
know if Hunwick and Rogers hung out togeth-
er - but both of the guys said that there is
truly an added benefit to being close.
"It definitely doesn't hurt (to be friends off
the ice) because we can talk about things that
went on on the ice," Rogers said. "And it's
easier to communicate that way."
In their case, sharing a house has brought
them closer. In addition to watching "Sein-
feld," the roommates also watch sports
together - Rogers is a rabid Red Sox fan -
and cook. Rogers even claims to have taught
Hunwick to make their favorite dish: chicken
and pasta with vegetables.
"You know what he does that's great,"
said Rogers of his sophomore roommate.
"He's real good at cleaning up the house.
He's always doing the dishes and cleaning
up the living room and the
kitchen and pretty much 1
keeping things organized. He's al~
Without him, the dishes pile the disi
up in a hurry."
Rich Hunwick, Matt's leaninj
dad, said that he's noticed
his son's neat side through-
out his entire life and
described him as a real-life
Felix Unger - the neat one from The Odd
When Hunwick was playing for the U.S.
national team, he got into a couple of fights.
While his opponent was throwing off his
gloves and charging at him, Hunwick was
taking off his gloves and neatly placing them
on the ice next to his stick.
"I remember thinking, 'Are you going to
organize everything and let this guy pound
your head while you're organizing your
equipment?' "his father said.
When Hunwick first began playing on
teams as a 6-year-old, his coaches imme-
diately put him on defense. He said it was
because he was the only kid on the team who
could skate backwards. The coaches saw his.
strong skating and immediately wanted him
on the back line.
His dad was the man who motivated
Hunwick to learn how to skate.. When his
son was 3 years old, Rich Hunwick took
him to an ice rink in Birmingham for pub-
lic skating. As a 3-year-old, Matt wasn't
quite as focused on becoming a star hock-
ey player as he is now. Rich said that his
son was bored just skating around the ice.
So Rich challenged him to make a whole
lap around the rink without falling and
guaranteed him McDonalds if he did. It
took him some time to make it all the way
around, but when he did, his dad fulfilled
the promise. Eventually, it didn't take Matt
as long to finish his lap.
"After a couple of times he sort of took
off," Rich Hunwick said. "It would take 20
minutes to drive to the rink and three min-
utes to skate around and it was time to leave.
It was kind of cute when he was 3 years old
and saying, 'Well Dad, it's time to get a ham-
burger - I'm done.' We had only been there
five minutes, and I don't even have my skates
on, and (Matt wanted) to leave."
Rogers learned to skate in his backyard in
Rochester, N.H. His father, Tom, built a rink
in their yard out of wooden boards. He rebuilt
it every winter and
d n maintained it every
nays doing night. As Rogers got
es and older, the wooden
rink got bigger. Like
U} " Hunwick's parents,
Judy and Tom Rogers
- Brandon Rogers took their son to the
local ice skating rink
when he was 3 years
old. But most of his time honing his skills
came in their backyard in the winter or in
the driveway in the summer. He used to play
against a collie from the neighborhood.
"He would come home in the afternoon
and start hitting the puck, and the dog would
hear him and come down around the corner
and would play with him," Judy said. "It was
like playing with someone else because the
dog would go after the puck."
Like Hunwick, Rogers also played defense
right from the start. But for him, his coaches'
reasoning was a little bit different.
"When I started, they put me with the best
player - probably because I was the worst
player," Rogers said. "I think that they just
wanted to balance things out on 'D.' So they
put me right back there right away."
When they were younger, there were no
tryouts to see what either player was good
at, or trial games at different positions to
get a feel for their talents. Both Hunwick
and Rogers, now Michigan's top line on
defense, were simply thrown into their job
as defensemen on the first day of practice
for the first team they played for. Rich
said that, for a couple of years, Hunwick
wanted to move up to forward, but eventu-
ally he realized that being a great defender
was more valuable than being an average
forward, and now they both love it.
"I like being the last guys who are depend-
ed on to keep the puck out of the net," Rog-
ers said. "You can see the whole ice better
than you can as a forward, because the play is
always in front of you. So you can see things
develop. And then on the offensive zone, get-
ting a chance to sneak into the slot and catch
guys by surprise."
According to Nystrom and the coaches,
the thing that separates Hunwick and Rog-
ers from their teammates is their work ethic.
Rogers, especially, is a leader in the weight
room and the locker room.
"He does things the way you would expect
players to do them," associate head coach Mel
Pearson said. "As far as his work ethic at prac-
photos by TONY DING/Daily
Brandon Rogers, top, and Matt Hunwick goof around at home. But on the Ice, it's all business.
tice, he's a kid that's dependable, he's on time,
he does the right thing ... on the ice. And that's
why he's one of the captains on our team."
That responsibility has always been a part
of Rogers's personality. When he was about
10 years old, he hit a puck from his home-
made ice rink through his neighbor's living
room window while she was ironing.
"Brandon pointed his finger like he was
pointing upstairs," Judy Rogers said. "He
shouted, 'I have the money upstairs!' "
Hunwick is also a player accustomed to
responsibility. He's won a gold medal with
the U.S. national team, and last season he
played most of his time on Michigan's top
line. He teamed up with senior captain Andy
Burns to go up against the opposition's top
"It definitely helps to drive you knowing
that you are going to play against someone
like a Jim Slater (a Michigan State forward
and preseason first team All-CCHA)," Hun-
wick said. "For that weekend I think it's some-
thing that pushes you all week. You know that
your assignment is going to be against their
top guys and shutting them down."
Collectively, Hunwick and Burns had a
plus-minus rating of plus-25 last season.
But Burns was the epitome of a defensive-
defenseman. He didn't score his first goal
last year until the last game of the season
against Boston College, and he only had
four goals for his entire career. Hunwick,
who has a tendency to move up into the
play, was free to play by his instincts -
knowing that his partner would be there
to back him up.
Rogers, as good as his coaches and
teammates say he is on defense, is a two-
way player. He likes to push up into the
slot and try to score. And this season, the
coaching staff is really trying to get its
defenders more involved in the offense.
But that means that the two of them have
to be careful not to get caught too far up
the ice at the same time.
"When you give them the green light like
that, sometimes they'll both jump up," Pear-
son said. "They have to read off each other a
little bit better when one should jump and the
other should pull back a little bit."
And that's where the communication
comes in. Hunwick and Rogers continue to
drill long after practice ends, and spend time
together because they know that their com-
munication is essential to the success of the
"I think that the biggest thing is to have
respect for the guy you're playing with,"
Hunwick said. "You have to respect him as
a player and also off the ice as a person. So I
think, in our case, it works out."
Question Brandon's Prediction Matt's Answer Matt's Prediction Brandon's Answer
Favorite Michigan hockey alum? Bubba Berenzweig Marty Turco Turco Mike Comrie
Favorite NHL player? Chris Chelios Steve Yzerman 4 Ray Bourque Bourque ,
Who's more likely to bring a different girl He'd say me. ButI don't think either of us are going to Me What would he say? e Hint (Matt)
home Friday and Saturday night? give ourselves up that easy.
Meal you make most often? Eggs Chicken and pasta Chicken and pasta
Favorite beverage? O.J. " ,", Coke, I guess. Something healthy - a protein shake Chocolate Milk
Roommate you're closest with? 1. liensic Hensik Eric Nystrom ***".... ,"" Nystrom
Best Friday night: Rick's, Brown Jug, Jug with the boys I can't get into Rick's - too young Brown Jug Him? Rick's At the Jug with the boys
watch a movie, do homework?
Best channel: ESPN, ESPN 2, Regular The normal one .... The first one - regular ESPN Regular ESPN
ESPN Classic or ESPN News?
Britney or Christina? Britney "Britney umm ... Christina Britney
Best birthday gift: Blender, pic- Sweater What kind of sweater? I'd say blender I think he'd say blender, too Blender e*'*
ture frame or sweater?
I'd rather watch: SportsCenter, West SportsCenter Of those, SportsCenter SportsCenter SportsCenter
Wing, 60 Minutes, Sex and the City?
Best late- night pizza: Backroom, Backroom Backroom Backroom Bell's