Wolverines live and die by Hunwick's play in third-place finish

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 20, 2011

DETROIT — As the top seed in the CCHA Tournament, senior forward Louie Caporusso realized that the No. 5 Michigan hockey team had a target on its back.

“When you come in as a one seed, everyone wants to take you down,” Caporusso said. “We were that team last year, coming in as a seven seed. You’ve got that desperation in your game.”

But the Wolverines were their own worst enemy, turning in a Jekyl and Hyde performance at Joe Louis Arena — getting thrashed 5-2 by fourth-seeded Western Michigan in the semifinals, and toppling No. 2 seed Notre Dame 4-2 in the consolation game.

On Friday, the Broncos easily pierced the Michigan target.

Western Michigan forward Mike Leone started the speedy demolition of the Wolverines with a tip-in goal midway through the first period. The goal came on a 5-on-3 advantage, after a pair of penalties taken by Michigan freshmen — forward Derek DeBlois and defenseman Jon Merrill.

And the steady stream to the penalty box didn’t stop there, as Western Michigan tallied two more power-play goals in the second period to take a chokehold on the game.

After Bronco forward Matt Tennyson picked up a rebound to the left of Michigan senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick and flicked it past the goalie from his knees to push the lead to 3-0, Hunwick — Michigan’s steadiest performer for the last six months — crumbled.

The goaltender joined a scrum behind the net, shoving a Western Michigan player before being pulled away by the referee.

“I think he overreacted, he got too emotionally involved in the game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He’s disappointed, he’s proud, he’s a warrior, and it didn’t help his game tonight.”

Helped by a pair of turnovers at the Michigan blue line — the first from sophomore forward Lindsay Sparks, then senior forward Ben Winnett — the Broncos slipped two more past a frustrated Hunwick.

In the second intermission, trailing 5-1, Berenson gave the nod to senior goaltender Bryan Hogan to take the net.

“I’ve been in that same locker room in this same building down 5-1 in the third period and won the game,” Berenson said. “So you never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes a goalie change will wake everybody up, but it didn’t.”

Standing at the end of the bench during the final 20 minutes of the loss, Hunwick was in the opposite position that he was a year earlier. He led the Wolverines to a CCHA Tournament title in 2010 in emergency relief of an injured Hogan, but now he was the story of the weekend for all the wrong reasons.

The Wolverines poured on 13 shots in the third period, but could only muster a single goal — a redirection goal from Sparks.

“We were embarrassed,” Caporusso said. “You never want to lose like that at the Joe.”

With the loss, Michigan was slated to face No. 8-ranked Notre Dame, who was routed by No. 6 Miami (Ohio) in its semifinal.

Both of the tournament's top seeds were limping into their consolation matchup.

“There’s not a coach in the league that likes the third-place game,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said Friday. “We’ve tried to vote it out a hundred times. But the bottom line is that it’ll be an important game for us or whoever.”

But Hunwick wanted to be there. And he showed it.

“You give up five goals, get pulled after the second, you should be pretty motivated to come back the next day,” Hunwick said. “Last night I lost my composure a little bit, I was frustrated at how things were going. I wasn’t really mad at anybody but myself, and I probably took it out in the worst way possible. That’s the good thing about hockey, you’ve got another game the next day.”

Hunwick pitched a near-flawless game against the Fighting Irish on Saturday, carrying the Wolverines with a career-high 42 saves in regulation.

But for the second-straight night, Michigan fell down early, when Hunwick’s clearing attempt hit the referee’s helmet and dropped right to Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan in the slot.

The Wolverines charged back with a pair of goals 15 seconds apart from Caporusso and senior forward Carl Hagelin to take a 2-1 lead, which proved sufficient until the final two minutes of the game.

Five mintues into the third period, sophomore forward Jeff Rohrkemper snuck in a rebound to extend the Michigan lead, but it was Hunwick who saved the day with a brilliant glove save less than a minute later. The Wolverines depended on that save, since Notre Dame pulled to within one with an extra-attacker goal with 1:22 remaining in the game.

In the end, Friday’s goat was Saturday’s hero.

And as the Wolverines prepare to face Nebraska-Omaha next weekend in the NCAA regionals, they will depend on Hunwick to shine in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

“With a solid goaltender like Shawn Hunwick, there’s no telling what we could do,” Caporusso said at the postgame press conference Saturday. “This game right here, we owe it all to him. Some of the saves he made were unbelievable. We have a confident goaltender, and we’re confident in our goalie — he’s got to be our best player.”