This means it’s time for our weekly Alumni Q&A, where I use magical tools like the Internet and telephones to track down former Michigan athletes. They could be close, they could be far, but I will find them.
This week’s Q&A is with former Michigan hockey goalie Shawn Hunwick, who is currently playing with the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League, where insanely corny promotional videos are apparently the norm. The Stingrays are the affiliate team of the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, which in turn are the affiliate team of the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League.
The 25-year old Hunwick is 2-1 in the three games he has started in South Carolina, allowing just over three goals a game and posting a .917 save percentage.
To the questions:
The Michigan Daily: Let’s start back with Columbus, when you signed with the Blue Jackets at the end of last season. Did you ever get the sense that you were going to come back with Columbus?
Shawn Hunwick: No, I mean I just looked at it has an opportunity to work at the time because they didn’t have a lot of goalie depth in their system because of injuries. I knew it was probably going to be just a two-week thing with them.
TMD: After Columbus, you end up with EC Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Hockey League for about two months this summer. What happened there?
SH: I was there for a couple weeks before we started skating for camp, and right before camp opened up they signed Alex Auld, who played for the Ottawa Senators last year. With the upcoming lockout, he signed with Salzburg. They decided they couldn’t sign two import goalies, so they decided to go with the NHL guy.
TMD: You come back to America and start playing for the Stingrays. How’d that all go down?
SH: I came back to the States, skated for a couple weeks and got an invite to the Providence Bruins camp. I was there for a few days and then they signed me to their ECHL affiliate team in South Carolina.
TMD: You said a while back it’d be cool to travel the world and make a little money playing hockey. Is that still the eventual goal, do you still want to see Europe, or are you happy back in the States?
SH: That’s a tough question to answer. It was nice being over in Austria — I got to visit Sweden, Finland, Germany and the Czech Republic all in a short period of time, so it’s nice to see places you’ve never been. When you move away from home, you realize the things that you miss, just watching English TV or being able to do your laundry in English, but yeah, I think going back to Europe would be something I would look forward to if that opportunity presented itself again. I like the style of play over there, and it was definitely a good experience for me.
TMD: What’s it like playing hockey in the South?
SH: We actually have pretty dedicated fans. You don’t really expect that, especially down here in Charleston. Two nights ago I started in Orlando, Fla. against an expansion team down there, and the fans are pretty good and hostile. They like to let you have it, just like any other team. I’ve heard from some of the guys here that a lot of people in the North come down here in the winter where it’s warm, so we sell out a lot of games during the winter. It’s definitely more passionate fans that I thought it would be.
TMD: Red always says he doesn’t want his ex-players to end up being “hockey bums,” so how many more teams do you play on before he calls you for a lecture?
SH: When I came back from Austria, I was maybe thinking about looking at some other opportunities, but Coach was the one that really wanted me to stick with it and least give the ECHL a shot. Most goalies that we play against are all on NHL deals — in the game I was in last night I was the only goalie in the game not on an NHL deal. Coach has been pretty persistent about me sticking it out at least through the year to give it a fair shake.
TMD: Do you think the ECHL could be a good springboard for you?
SH: I don’t know, it depends upon how you play, but every year there are guys who move up from their leagues. In an NHL organization from top to bottom, there are only six spots from the NHL starter to the ECHL backup. With two injuries, the starter in the AHL could be starting in the NHL and stuff like that, but it’s just all about playing well regardless of where you are playing. It’s the same thing anywhere you go. Like I’ve said before, playing hockey at Michigan was my passion and my goal, so anything after that is just an added bonus.
TMD: You’re 25 and played five years at Michigan. That’s 20 percent of your life. How weird was it last summer not preparing for another Michigan season?
SH: It’s funny, (Former captain Luke) Glendening and I were hanging out and talking with some of the guys this summer, and we were talking about maybe renting a house up North for the team to get together for some team bonding. We both looked at each other and were like, “Wait, what are we talking about?” It’s weird not being on the team and coming back for another season at Yost, or not going to class or preparing to get back to the tournament. It’s definitely been different. It’s been funny to watch or follow the games and not have the stress of trying to get it done.