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Hunwick finishes final regular season with a whimper, then a bang

Stephen J. Nesbitt/Daily
Fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick allowed four goals on Friday, but rebounded with a 22-save shutout against Bowling Green on Saturday. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 26, 2012

BOWLING GREEN — The ending couldn’t have been more appropriate.

In his final regular-season game in a Michigan hockey uniform, fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick — the former walk-on — pitched a shutout against lowly Bowling Green.

It was Hunwick’s 10th career shutout, good for fourth all-time in Michigan’s record book. It was his 51st career victory, pulling him one back of former teammate Bryan Hogan in seventh place on the all-time wins list.

Hunwick will go down as one of the best ever to don the block ‘M’ sweater. And this was his night. He pushed aside 22 shots en route to a 3-0 victory at BGSU Ice Arena.

The ending was perfect. The night before, though, was perfectly dreadful.

In the series opener on Friday, Hunwick and the Michigan defense surrendered 29 shots and four goals to the Falcons, a team averaging 1.71 goals scored per contest — that number ranks Bowling Green 57th of 59 Division-I college hockey teams.

Considering that the Wolverines entered the matchup riding an 18-game spree during which they compiled a 13-3-2 record and didn’t once allow four goals, a upset dusting by the cellar-dweller Falcons on Friday was a shock.

“There’s a team (Bowling Green) with one of the lower-scoring offenses in the league,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said on Friday night. “But it doesn’t matter, they’re all good players, they’re all Division-I players, and they’re all hungry.”

Berenson wasn’t willing to pin the blame on any single facet of the Michigan hockey team. He tore into everyone.

“That’s on everybody,” he said. “That’s Hunwick, that’s defense and that’s the forwards coming back.”

The loss snapped Michigan’s three-game winning streak and put to bed any thoughts of overcoming a six-point deficit to No. 1 Ferris State in the conference standings to claim the CCHA regular-season title.

Hunwick, by now a well-seasoned veteran, had no qualms criticizing himself in the blame game, even if a lion’s share belonged to the defense.

“I think I gave up a couple soft goals,” Hunwick said. “I don’t know if it was physical (lapses), probably more mental.”

Twenty-four hours made all the difference for Hunwick.

When the teams took the ice for the back half of the series on Saturday, with second place in the CCHA on the line for Michigan, the focus was restored. It hadn’t left, but it had wavered.

Hunwick admitted that there was a sense of urgency in the locker room. And he played like it.

Facing the resurgent Falcons, whom he called “one of the hardest-working teams in the league,” Hunwick backstopped Michigan through nine penalty kills and 45 minutes of scoreless hockey before senior forward David Wohlberg broke the deadlock early in the third period.

Hunwick went punch-for-punch with Bowling Green goaltender Andrew Hammond in front of an arena-record crowd of 5,031 until Michigan finally landed a haymaker with the Wohlberg goal. Then another. And then the knockout with an empty net.

“(Hunwick) just rebounded phenomenally,” Wohlberg said. “That’s what we expected from him.”

The final line on Hunwick’s final regular-season game will tell the goalie’s unexpected story quite nicely: 22 saves, a win and a shutout. It won’t be hard to forget the game before.

But Hunwick will let the loss sting, for a moment anyway, because for a night he wasn’t quite good enough. The Cinderella story doesn’t work as an excuse. He wasn’t crisp, he wasn’t focused.

“He’s a tough kid, he’s a proud kid,” Berenson said. “He’s played well all year and that’s not a fluke. (Saturday) was a good challenge for our team — and him — to bounce back.”

The ending to the regular season was appropriate. The journey to the perfect ending, though, will begin in two weeks, with the second round of the CCHA Tournament on March 9-11.