By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 23, 2012
GREEN BAY, Wisc. — At some point during the postseason, overtime became the norm for the Michigan hockey team. In two of its four CCHA playoff games, the Wolverines needed an extra frame to decide things, and it won both of those playoff games.
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But the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night was different. Michigan played Cornell to a 2-2 tie in regulation, then lost a little less than four minutes into overtime.
A shot rebounded off the front pad of fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick, and he had no chance to recover. He was caught out of position, and Cornell's Rodger Craig shoveled the puck past him — it was the last shot Hunwick will ever see in a Michigan uniform.
The Wolverines were exhausted after a long weekend in Detroit for the CCHA Championship a week ago, which included a double-overtime victory against Bowling Green in the semifinal and a loss to Western Michigan in the final.
Less than a week later, they initially looked like they had rested for a couple weeks.
Senior captain Luke Glendening gave No. 2 Michigan its best start of the season when he recovered a rebound’s rebound a little over a minute into the first period and sent it home.
Cornell goaltender Andy Iles blocked the first and second shots, but couldn’t recover in time to stop the third.
A little less than 30 seconds later, junior forward Kevin Lynch thought he had given the Wolverines their quickest two goals of the year. No. 14 Cornell was going to have to deal with a two-goal deficit less than two minutes into the game, a frightening prospect for a team in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
But the officials ruled that sophomore forward Luke Moffatt had interfered with Iles, and the goal was taken off the board after Cornell took a timeout. With the wind taken out of its sails, Michigan didn’t get another puck in the net until late in the third period.
“I’m not questioning the officials, but typically, you either you blow the whistle or you don’t,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “If he’s out of the crease, you probably let it go. It’s not a penalty.”
Cornell tied it up halfway through the first period, and the shootout was supposedly on.
The tables seemed to be set that way for Michigan in the second period, when the Big Red were called for a whopping six penalties. One of those penalties was a five-minute major contact-to-the-head penalty on Armand de Swardt, who was given a game misconduct.
But the momentum of that power play was promptly killed when junior defenseman Lee Moffie took a penalty of his own just 10 seconds after De Swardt left the ice.
The Big Red spent more than half of the period in the box, but their penalty kill weathered the onslaught, penalty after penalty.
“Our penalty killers tonight were just unbelievable,” Iles said. “Those guys are the ones who really stole the show in the second period and they did a great job. We were really able to build off that momentum going into the third.”
The Wolverines came out flat in the third period, managing just two shots through the first 16 minutes of the final frame, highlighted by the only power play of the period. That man-advantage got exactly zero shots on goal.
The season was slipping out of hand, a sloppy performance to send off the senior class in Green Bay.
Then Lynch, so often the example of a Wolverine skater that plays his best when the lights are the brightest, pulled Michigan out from its deep slumber. He made sure this goal counted, sliding the puck past Iles, who was out of position after a rebound, with just over four minutes remaining.
The game almost ended with 12 seconds left, as the puck sat a couple feet away from sending the Wolverines to a second-round matchup against Ferris State. But Isles and a swarm of defensemen flew over to sit on the puck.
After a third intermission, Cornell took over in overtime and ended Michigan's season.
An overtime defeat wasn’t how it was supposed to end for the one-seed Wolverines. They drew what was considered the easiest regional bracket, playing a Cornell team that won five fewer games than Michigan.
Hunwick, a former walk-on, was supposed to continue his brilliant career to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, Fla., where he would be flanked by one of the most heroic and unlikely senior classes in recent Michigan hockey history.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow because we’ve had some real good efforts from our team this year, particularly with Shawn Hunwick, who has had a Cinderella career here,” Berenson said. “I wish he could have had a better ending.”
This team played through the CCHA gauntlet, coming back from the dead in November and losing just four games in the first three months of 2012, working through the ups and downs that came with having eight freshman and four seniors.
Hunwick, Glendening, defenseman Greg Pateryn and forward David Wohlberg pulled off their Michigan jerseys for the last time on Friday night, with a plane waiting to fly them back to Ann Arbor. This wasn't expected.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.