- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 11, 2014
Luke Dwyer knows that he’ll never start a game for the Michigan hockey team.
The 5-foot-10 junior goaltender redshirted, then didn’t play a single minute his freshman or sophomore seasons. He has seen other netminders come into the program and immediately leapfrog him on the depth chart. On his player profile on MGoBlue.com, his career highlights all say “to come.”
Last weekend against Michigan State, a highlight finally came.
Up 6-1 with 3:32 remaining in the game, Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers took away Dwyer’s clipboard, which he had been using to record faceoffs. The unsuspecting goaltender’s teammates and the sold-out crowd at Yost Ice Arena greeted the surprise substitution with a loud roar.
And for the final minutes, a “starstruck” Dwyer stonewalled the Spartans, making three saves as the Wolverines rolled to a 7-1 win.
On his first play, a draw in Michigan’s zone, Dwyer sprawled out onto the ice to corral a loose puck, laying face-down on the ice with it clenched in his glove. Later, with the Wolverines on the power play, he had to apologize to the referee after covering a shot that most goaltenders would have left for a teammate.
“I didn’t want to let anything by, so I had to,” Dwyer said after the game, shaking in excitement.
And when the final horn sounded, his teammates poured onto the ice in jubilation — not because of the win, but because of Dwyer.
“The team jumped off the bench like they had won the Stanley Cup,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That’s what he means to the team.”
Dwyer was never meant to be a varsity athlete at Michigan. Even Berenson admits as much.
The coach knew of the netminder in high school, but the Wolverines already had three goaltenders on their roster and had no need for a fourth. But when a spot opened up for the 2011-12 campaign after two graduations the previous season, Berenson knew who to call.
“We needed a goalie,” Berenson said. “I’d heard of him going to the Cube with his goalie equipment and just playing. … I’m really glad we connected with him.”
In his spare time, Dwyer had been joining pickup games at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. When the Michigan coaches came to watch and offered the then-freshman a spot on the team, he jumped at the opportunity.
Until this season, the goaltender had been comfortable in his niche off the ice. Berenson called Dwyer one of the team’s best leaders, though he had never seen a moment of playing time in exhibitions or otherwise.
“If he sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll speak up,” Berenson said. “He’s not afraid to act like a captain.”
His team noticed and pleaded for Dwyer to play if the Wolverines had a substantial lead at the end of their Dec. 5, 2013 midseason exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program. So the coach complied.
When the announcer called Dwyer’s name and he skated to his spot in the crease, Michigan held a comfortable 4-2 lead. Just a couple of minutes remained. His teammates pounded their sticks against the ice and the boards in anticipation of the moment.
But that night offered no storybook ending. The NTDP scored twice in the final minute of the third period and added the winner in overtime. Dwyer finished with three goals-against and only one save in 5:31.
Afterward, the team blamed itself for defensive breakdowns while Dwyer was in net.
“He has been the hardest worker here for two-and-a-half years, and he has nothing to show for it,” said junior forward Alex Guptill. “That’s why everyone was begging to get him in there at the end, and I’ve got a sick feeling in my stomach right now for us to blow that lead for him.”
Of that game, Dwyer remembers every excruciating moment, from the anxiety of making his unofficial debut to the bitter reality of having lost.
“I was thinking a little bit too much,” he said. “I was a little overwhelmed by the moment.”
Against Michigan State, Dwyer had another chance. And this time, he didn’t let anybody down.
This time, when the coaches told him that they were making the substitution, Dwyer didn’t think about the enormity of the situation. This time, when he crouched in the crease before play resumed, he didn’t glance to see how many minutes remained.
This time, he didn’t even spend the moment it would have taken enjoy the spotlight of 5,800 pairs of eyes watching him from the bleachers.
“I wish I would’ve looked around and let it sink in a bit, but I didn’t really want to do that at the time,” Dwyer said. “I was just focused on not giving anything up. … I was too dumb to look around and just relax. I’m sure it would’ve been a cool sight.”
When the final horn sounded, this time, there were no melancholy pats on the helmet or players volunteering to take blame.
This time, he gave himself something to show for his dedication to Michigan: a highlight.