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Growing Into the Spotlight: The inconceivable rise of Shawn Hunwick

By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 21, 2011

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — Inside the home of Rich and Robin Hunwick, tickets from the Big Chill at the Big House and Michigan jerseys line the living room walls, set alongside childhood snapshots of their two boys, Matt and Shawn.

Tucked away in the corner of the room is a picture of Shawn, no older than seven, posing in a goalie squat in the net, his equipment swallowing his small frame.

Nothing about this picture is striking. Just a relic from a picture day many years ago.

Today, Shawn simulates that same squat in net for the No.1 Michigan hockey team, and that’s when it hits you.

In relation to the crossbar, he doesn’t look much taller.

Michigan coach Red Berenson has always liked his goalies big. Why put someone in goal who covers less if you can have someone who covers more? Simple math.

Then you have Shawn, Michigan’s current starting goaltender, who is generously listed at 5-foot-7. He’s probably closer to 5-foot-6.

In theory, Shawn shouldn’t even be in Ann Arbor. He should have graduated from Division III Adrian College last year, finishing up a successful career as the four-year starter.

All he asked for was a chance. That’s all he needed to write a storybook narrative that no one could have predicted, not even Shawn.

***

When Shawn was six years old, Rich took him to sign-ups for spring hockey. Shawn had originally shown no interest in the sport, but after seeing Matt play that winter Rich and Robin convinced Shawn to give it a shot.

At the sign-ups, Shawn saw these little goalie pads in the corner of the room, and that was it. Rich did his best to talk him into another position, but Shawn was having none of it. He wanted to be a goalie.

This whole journey — this story — it all started because a little boy saw some oversized goalie pads and thought they looked cool.

As kids cycled through positions while experimenting with the sport, Shawn was in net. He played without those oversized pads in the offensive zone a few times and hated it. Out there, you have to return to the bench every once in a while. Shawn didn’t like coming out. He was content with never taking a breather.

It didn’t hurt that he had an older brother who was willing to shoot on him for hours and hours, either. Shots to the head didn’t faze him — they were just part of the game. He wasn’t scared of anything.

Shawn enjoyed the pressure, too. He liked that the team relied on him and that not everyone could do his job. Goalie might be the most important position in any team of any sport. Something about that drew Shawn in.

“If you are a forward, you can probably take a night off without anyone noticing that you didn’t play that well,” Shawn said. “When you are a goalie you can't really do that. If I take a night off we are going to lose the game.”

He could have switched positions when he stopped growing, but he knew he was a goalie. Tall, short, or in between, no one could take that away from him. They tried, but the little kid who had been blocking shots his whole life just blocked that one too.

Nobody doubted the kid was a hell of a goalie. He had a knack for knowing where the puck was going, even at an early age.

In one youth tournament he played in, the most valuable player of each game received the puck. Shawn received a puck almost every game, even though his team didn’t win a single time.

“The pucks just kept coming in,” Robin said. “Every time he turned around they were giving Shawn the puck.”

By then, the Hunwick boys were devoting every waking moment to hockey. They played every sport and joined every group, but all other activities fell into place around hockey.

“We would have a day off and he would be like, ‘I’m bored, we don’t do anything,’ ” Rich said. “I would always say, ‘What the hell are you talking about? We’ve been going 21 days in a row!’ ”

***

The United States Developmental Team showed no interest in Shawn, even after Matt played on the team two years before. The team is a Michigan hockey pipeline, and sends players to other top schools as well. Undeterred, Shawn finished high school and started playing junior hockey.

He played for the Petrolia Jets of the Western Ontario Junior Hockey League (WOJHL) at age 18, where he won the WOJHL Rookie Goalie of the year award. The team finished in ninth place the year before he joined and the year after he left. When Shawn was there, the Jets finished fourth.


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