By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Alumni
Published March 24, 2013
The first thoughts of the streak dying came right around Christmas time. A mere slow start was quickly becoming a lost season as Michigan was 9-9-0 and trailing heading into the third period of its Great Lakes Invitational first-round game against equally average RPI.
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That’s when Michigan coach Red Berenson switched goalies. Bryan Hogan, who had played every minute of every game up to that point, was out. In Shawn Hunwick, who had played a total of three minutes in his career.
The Wolverines came back to tie the game before RPI scored the game-winning goal with a shot just over Hunwick’s shoulder. It likely would have hit Hogan, who was six inches taller, in the chest.
Everything Berenson tried during that 2009-10 season felt like he was trying to mash pieces of two different jigsaw puzzles together. It started with Michigan ranked No. 4 in the country. It should have ended four weeks before it did.
Yet, three months after the GLI, I sat on a dingy banquet chair in a poorly lit interview room in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena waiting to ask questions to the CCHA tournament champions. The seventh-seeded Wolverines knocked off the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 seeds to capture the conference title, and did it without their senior captain on defense (Chris Summers), and with a diminutive backup goalie.
It will always be remembered as the year the legend of Shawn Hunwick was born, and as we waited for Michigan to come to the press conference another writer and I hashed out who would get the movie rights to Hunwick’s story.
We had no idea what would come next: Hunwick leading his team to the national championship game, his fifth year, his brief NHL call up. We had just witnessed a backup goalie, who many thought was only on the team because his brother had been a defenseman. His own coach didn’t trust him until he had to win six straight games to keep a now two-decade old streak alive. That was motion-picture worthy.
It’s been just three years but, like anything, the memory has faded into specific moments.
That Great Lakes Invitational goal. The look on Steve Kampfer’s face after the Wolverines were swept by Nebraska Omaha for the first time ever. The feeling of agreement while reading the obituary for the streak that my colleague Ryan Kartje wrote the next day. “The Michigan hockey team’s streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — the longest of its kind in the NCAA — has been pronounced dead at 19.”
The hush amongst the crowd as Hogan went down with a groin injury two games before the CCHA tournament. The sprawling glove save Hunwick made seconds after replacing him. The rare smile the save brought to Berenson’s face when he was asked about it after the game.
I remember the first time I believed Michigan could pull it off. Ben Winnett caught a pass out of the corner and fired a wrist shot past the goalie in the second game of the second round against Michigan State to tie the game and swing momentum back in the Wolverines’ favor.
I remember the moment another NCAA tournament appearance felt inevitable. Michigan had just scored three goals within five minutes in its CCHA semifinal against Miami and chased CCHA Player of Year Cody Reichard from the game.
And I remember Berenson eventually walking into that poorly lit interview room in Joe Louis Arena.
“I always preferred bigger goalies,” he said.
I forgot what Berenson said after that, but everybody, including the coach, laughed at the absurdity of this all.