Matt Hunwick Makes the Most of His Opportunity With the Maple Leafs


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After riding the bench with the Rangers, defenseman Matt Hunwick is getting his chance with the Maple Leafs this season.

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Claus Andersen/Getty Images

TORONTO — Last season with the Rangers, defenseman Matt Hunwick watched a lot of hockey.

He sat out 27 games as a healthy scratch, getting most of his playing time filling in when Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein were injured. He had two goals and nine assists and was eighth among Rangers defensemen in average ice time per game.

As an unrestricted free agent last summer, he was looking for an opportunity to be a regular among his team’s top six defensemen.

He found one in Toronto and has taken full advantage.

Not only is Hunwick part of the Leafs’ top six defenseman, he is second to only Dion Phaneuf in average ice time (22 minutes 25 seconds) through 23 games.

Hunwick also has an assist, a minus-6 rating and 12 penalty minutes through the first two months of the season.

“He’s been better than everyone expected,” Coach Mike Babcock said. “Anybody that tells you differently is flat-out not telling you the truth.

“What happened was he got an opportunity. If you’re with the Rangers and you’re behind their left side, you don’t get that opportunity. But I like stories like Hunwick because, I mean, pound for pound, he’s as strong as they come.”

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Matt Hunwick, left, battled with the Rangers’ Chris Kreider last month.

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Babcock was so impressed with Hunwick’s training camp and preseason play that he named him to the Maple Leafs’ leadership group as an alternate captain.

The letter on his sweater is a first for Hunwick, 30, who is in his ninth N.H.L. season.

“It’s a bit of a confidence boost,” Hunwick said. “I think it goes to show they were happy with what I was doing during training camp and the stuff I was doing on the ice, as well off the ice as well. It’s just reassurance to continue doing what I was doing. It’s a little bit of added responsibility, but it’s definitely something that I embrace.”

Adjusting to more ice time is nothing new for him. Hunwick was a spare part for the Colorado Avalanche during the 2011-12 season, dressing in only 33 games. During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Hunwick appeared in all but five games while averaging more than 21 minutes.

Part of the adjustment to an increased workload is conditioning, something Hunwick acknowledged he was always cognizant of.

“That’s one of my big things; I think that’s why I was able to come in and out of the lineup so easily,” he said. “I try to take care of myself and do the right things to prepare. Now, playing more, sometimes I have to moderate a little bit what I’m doing away from the game in terms of workouts and that kind of stuff.”

Having played in New York and now with Toronto, two of the biggest media markets in the league, Hunwick has become an expert in tuning out his critics. He said that was a reason he had fit in with the Maple Leafs in the early going.

“I don’t have Twitter or Instagram, so I follow the media very little,” he said. “I’m probably a perfect guy to come into a situation like this. You just try and take feedback from your coaches and play for your teammates and let the media do their thing.

“I know when you’re not winning, it can be tough, and New York, I’m sure, is the same way when teams aren’t winning.”

Off the ice, Hunwick, who grew up four hours south of Toronto in Warren, Mich., is adjusting to his new surroundings. He and his wife, Adrienne, and their son, Henry, have settled just outside of the city.

“It’s not like when we were in Colorado and Boston; we lived right downtown and walked everywhere,” Hunwick said. “Now, having a family and a dog, we need a little more space, so we’re outside of town, but it’s been great.”



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