Michigan ice hockey wins CCHA championship, earns NCAA Tournament berth for 20th straight season

Ariel Bond/Daily
The Wolverines celebrate winning theWolverines accept the CCHA championship trophy after their victory over Northern Michigan on Saturday, March 20, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines won 2-1. Buy this photo

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 20, 2010

DETROIT — Three weeks ago, the Michigan hockey team was standing at the foot of a mountain and they couldn’t see the peak.


After beating No. 2 Miami 5-2 in the CCHA semifinals Friday and following it up with a 2-1 over No. 12 Northern Michigan in the championship game at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, Michigan had scaled the mountain and extended their 19-year NCAA tournament streak to 20.

No. 17 Michigan started the journey as the seventh-seed in the CCHA Tournament and many had dismissed the team's chances. A seven seed had never won the CCHA Tournament before.

Starting goalie Bryan Hogan went out with a groin injury two games before the playoffs. Junior Shawn Hunwick, who had played in just two games his whole career up to that point, was forced to step in.

If that wasn’t enough, senior captain Chris Summers went out with knee injury in Michigan’s first-round series.

But after two impressive wins, this weekend the Wolverines stood at the top of the mountain, wondering how they got there.

“I don’t know," junior Louie Caporusso said. “Maybe it was just the commitment and playing defensive, sound hockey. We had to play as a team. I can't tell you what it was; maybe it was the adversity throughout the whole year. Finally, we just said it is up to us.”

On Saturday, the Wolverines (25-17-1) took a 1-0 lead into the final period. They had 20 minutes to extend to their streak to 20 years. As those minutes dwindled down to mere seconds, Michigan still clung to a one-goal lead, this time by the score of 2-1.

Caporusso, the face of Michigan's second-half resurgence, had the game-winner on the power play. He wheeled out of the corner, received a pass from senior defenseman Steve Kampfer and directed it on goal to score his second of the game.

The Wildcats spent the third trying to get back into the game after Caporusso's second goal. But their final chance was sent wide to the right of Hunwick, and with 3.5 seconds left in the game, Northern took a penalty to stop the clock. Michigan didn’t wait for the final seconds to tick down to mob Hunwick. As soon as the puck was dropped, the bench emptied and gloves and sticks lay scattered all over the ice as Hunwick disappeared in the huddle of blue jerseys.

It was a fitting end for the goalie who was anonymous to the masses for most of his career thus far.

Hunwick’s biggest contribution came against the CCHA’s leading scorer, Northern’s Mark Olver, in the second period. Olver walked into the slot and let go of a wrist shot, only to have Hunwick reach out with his glove to get a piece on it. Hunwick’s 17-save effort was rewarded after the game, as he was named the tournament’s MVP.

“It was obviously nice, but I think it takes away from the team,” Hunwick said. “The guys played tremendous, I don’t even know if I deserve to be the MVP. Six weeks ago if you would have said I would sit here, I would’ve said you’re crazy.”

Despite facing relatively few shots — just 39 all weekend — Hunwick stepped up to make the saves when he needed to. On Friday, Hunwick made three second-period stops, including one where he reached back with his stick to deflect it into the netting.

Hunwick’s effort got the Wolverines into the locker room up by a goal. Michigan went on to score three goals in the first eight minutes of the third period.

“You’ve got a one-goal lead going into the third period and we talked about if we have to play the whole game with a one goal-lead that’s fine,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after Friday's game. “We’re going out to win the period. As it turned out we got the first goal and then we got some momentum and got another one.”

After the championship game, the team, the same one which started the season 10-10, saw its name on the bottom of the “CCHA Champions” banner before it was sent up into the rafters. The Wolverines had 14 wins in 22 games and won six consecutively. For the first time all year it was clear they were the best in the conference.

Amidst the commotion, Berenson remained calm as he stayed behind to do an on-ice interview. He only had one message as the team headed into the NCAA tournament.

“We’re still climbing.”