Amid chaos of call-up, ex-Wolverine provides calming presence for Hunwick in first NHL game

By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 28, 2012

COLUMBUS — Wednesday night, the first night of Shawn Hunwick’s NHL career, pitted the familiar against the unfamiliar.

During pregame warmups, Hunwick glanced across the ice and saw the team he grew up admiring — the Detroit Red Wings. He’d dreamt of this moment many times, admittedly picturing himself donning the red-and-white winged wheel.

“Guys like (Red Wings captain) Nick Lidstrom and (Red Wings forward) Tomas Holmstrom have been there since I was, like, 10 years old,” Hunwick said. “It was pretty cool to see them out there and get a feel for the big leagues.”

Columbus, the location of his first NHL game, seemed every bit as unfamiliar, and even somewhat hostile, to Hunwick, just days removed from his last game as the goaltender of the Michigan hockey team. A Michigan-raised kid trapped in Buckeye territory, Hunwick had no idea how he’d be received by the Blue Jackets fans.

So it came as a complete relief when, after the long drive down from Ann Arbor, one of the first people he saw made him feel right at home. That someone was former Wolverine defenseman Jack Johnson. While the pair never played together at Michigan, Johnson’s stay in Ann Arbor overlapped with Shawn’s older brother and current member of the Colorado Avalanche, Matt. Once the younger Hunwick put pen to paper upon arrival in Columbus, it was his turn to call Johnson a teammate.

“It was obviously nice to know a familiar face,” Hunwick said. “(He’s) somebody I’ve known for a long time and am really close with. It was nice to see someone that can ease the process for you a little bit.”

Because he arrived on such short notice, Hunwick needed to supply most of his own equipment to suit up. And if the maize and blue winged helmet seemed slightly out of place amongst the blue and red of the Blue Jackets’ uniforms, at least one of his teammates paid no mind.

“(Johnson) kept bringing up how he wanted to see the maize and blue helmet on the ice here in Columbus,” Hunwick said. “He was joking around that he was going to take a twirl in it.”

When Johnson heard the news that Hunwick was the goaltending reinforcement that the Blue Jackets had acquired following an injury to usual starter Steve Mason, he was almost as excited for the reunion as Hunwick was to be dressing for the game.

“I thought it was great,” Johnson said. “They said ‘Hey, we’re trying to get a hold of your boy Shawn Hunwick.’

“It couldn’t happen to a better kid. He deserves it, and I was as happy as I could possibly be to see him sitting on an NHL bench.”

Though the NHL call came significantly sooner than Hunwick had anticipated, he didn’t seem out of place or anxious while playing under an amateur tryout contract. And his game plan was simple.

“Don’t fall,” Hunwick joked.

Hunwick didn’t get to see the ice during the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 win, but he’s still thrilled that he even got the chance.

“I’ve never played down here with Michigan at all, but it was a pretty cool experience,” Hunwick said. “It was cool taking some shots from guys like (Blue Jackets forward) Rick Nash.”

As for what’s next, Hunwick’s ready for whatever comes his way — even if it’s a return ticket to Ann Arbor.

“I probably won’t be back, but you never know,” he said after the game.

Columbus interim coach Todd Richards didn’t get much time to talk to his new backup goalie, simply asking Hunwick how the drive up went. Richards seemed optimistic, however, that there would be more chances to get to know Hunwick in the near future.

“I’ll get another opportunity to talk with him more at length later,” Richards said.