By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 7, 2011
ST. PAUL, Minn. — It was Matt Frattin and Shawn Hunwick.
Michigan’s 2-0 win over North Dakota on Thursday sent the Wolverines to the NCAA Finals, leaving them one game away from hoisting the program’s 10th national championship trophy.
And following the victory, senior Shawn Hunwick sat in the locker room — just minutes after he had shut down North Dakota, the overwhelming favorites with the high-powered offense and a Hobey Baker shoo-in — kicked back, calmly answering questions, with no emotion whatsoever.
With 10 minutes left in the game, Frattin, the North Dakota forward, picked up the puck and made a move around senior defenseman Chad Langlais. With Frattin on the doorstep, Hunwick came out to challenge.
It was Frattin, the player with the respect of the whole college hockey world, the NHL draft pick, the story of redemption (from kicked off the team to Hobey Baker award favorite). Hunwick, the former walk-on who wasn’t expected to get significant playing time his entire career, who won CCHA goalie of the year based on his stats but wasn’t voted to either All-CCHA team. The two were face-to-face.
Frattin let go of the backhand. Hunwick crouched down and made the paddle stop — one of his 40 saves on the game — just seconds after Michigan nearly took a two-goal lead. It came just minutes after the small Michigan contingent, occupying two sections to the right of the Wolverines’ bench, felt compelled to overpower the Fighting Sioux crowd, which filled the rest of the building, for the first time since Michigan's goal.
And it came against North Dakota’s best player.
“When it’s in a rush, it’s hard to tell if it’s actually Frattin coming in,” Hunwick said. “You don’t try to worry too much about it, but you have to know where their stars are at all times. (Frattin's) got 36 goals for a reason.”
Michigan was outshot by 20, but they scored two goals — the last one an empty netter. The first goal came with just over six minutes to go in the first period. Long before the crowd watched the majority of the game in silence, too afraid to breathe, senior forward Ben Winnett picked up the puck off a Jon Merrill rebound. Winnett went around North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell, who was sprawled on the ice and deposited it in the back of the net.
That was all Hunwick needed. He made kick saves on shots from in close, blocker saves from shots on the outside and a sliding save on North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway that may have been his best.
“I wasn’t coming in with the mindset that I was going to have to steal one,” Hunwick said. “But once I settled in in the second, I felt I could if I had to.”
The shutout was Hunwick’s fourth of the season, but the only one against a team that averaged more than four goals per game. It was his second shutout when his team was outshot. But the shot differential of minus-20 this time was a season-high.
But the most unusual thing about it was that he didn’t finish the job. The Fighting Sioux pulled their goalie with just 1:12 to go. Hunwick made two saves and as the puck bounced out to the point, North Dakota Danny Kristo charged in and let go of a shot — blocked by junior defenseman Greg Pateryn. After the ricochet, there was another Fighting Sioux shot, blocked by senior forward Carl Hagelin. Michigan cleared and senior forward Scooter Vaughan put it in the empty-netter.
Game over. The Wolverines were headed to play for the national championship — all because of a kid who came to Ann Arbor never expecting to play in a game.
“I’m not surprised because this is what he’s doing,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It’s one week after another … A year ago I would have told you there was no chance that this would be happening.”