MARQUETTE — Shawn Hunwick is a great goalie because of his unrivaled passion and intensity. On game days, the diminutive senior netminder is in the zone hours before the puck drops, to the point where everyone knows not to mess with him.

He is great because he is an unbelievable competitor who will do anything in his power to win. That’s why his teammates love him — they know the man behind them wants nothing more than to protect them.

But the thing that makes Shawn Hunwick great is the thing that got him in trouble on Friday night in the team’s conference opener.

Ten minutes into the second period, Northern Michigan’s Andrew Cherniwchan ran into Hunwick after a missed breakaway shot, sending Hunwick flying through the air and onto his back. He rolled around the ice for a couple seconds, then got up and promptly jabbed his stick into Cherniwchan.

It was a little reminder that no one goes in his zone. Goalies do not like to be touched, let alone knocked over. Fine, no big deal.

Still not satisfied, Hunwick shoved Cherniwchan. Retaliation ensued, and a skirmish broke out. Shoving matches happen routinely in hockey, especially in tough, physical games. Fine, no big deal.

But then Hunwick cocked his arm and delivered a whopper of a punch to the chin of Cherniwchan, sending him on his back. This was not a little sock — Hunwick didn’t hold anything back.

Hunwick was subsequently ejected from the game, putting the incredibly raw sophomore Adam Janecyk in the net. Not fine — and a very big deal.

Less than five minutes later, the Michigan shutout was gone. It was the first of four goals that Janecyk would allow en route to a 5-3 Northern Michigan victory.

It’s hard to blame Janecyk. He played more minutes on Friday than in the rest of his Michigan career combined, and he was on the road in front of a brutal Northern Michigan crowd. He was not put into a position to succeed.

And that was because of Hunwick.

That sounds harsh, but here’s the thing: Hunwick is a fifth-year senior. He’s the oldest player on the team by more than two years. He’s not a fresh-faced kid who has never handled adversity before.

“We can’t have one of our senior captains lose his cool like that, no matter what happens,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We’ll address that.”

Before he was ejected, he already had 17 saves and was carrying an offensively sluggish Wolverine team. Hunwick is not only one of Michigan’s best players — he is one of the best players in the country.

With Hunwick in the net, the Wolverines have the ability to beat anybody. He is that good.
But Janecyk is not, and Hunwick has to know better than to get himself ejected.

That’s nothing against Janecyk. He just isn’t Hunwick.

There’s a fine line between playing with passion and playing with a hot head. You can be competitive without allowing emotions to control the game.

And for Michigan to be successful this year, Hunwick is going to have to get a much better grip of that line. If you were the opposing team, why wouldn’t you try to start something every game? Every team and every fanbase now has a blueprint against the Wolverines, because there’s no replacing Hunwick if he gets ejected.

He can’t throw punches, challenge the entire Northern Michigan bench to a fight and then taunt the fans behind him.

Provocation doesn’t matter. It’s understandable that Hunwick was upset on Friday. But he has to know that he’s Michigan’s most important player. He has to play smarter.

“We are not trying to take penalties and retaliate, but that’s the way the game was played,” Berenson said. “Hockey is a game of emotion. You just have to play with more control.”

On Saturday, he did. Hunwick didn’t play his best game of the year, allowing three goals, but he played well enough to keep Michigan in the game. The Wolverines went on to win in an overtime shootout, where Hunwick stopped all three Northern Michigan shot attempts.

Hunwick kept his composure, staying out of scuffles near the net and ignoring a hostile Wildcat student section that was in his ear all night. He even ignored a 400-pound Wildcat fan who took off his shirt in order to shake his fat all over the boards next to Hunwick’s net.

But if Janecyk had been in Hunwick’s spot on Saturday, Michigan would’ve lost. A kid who has never started a game doesn’t have any chance at denying all three shots in a shootout, especially on the road.

There was much discussion after Friday’s game as to whether Hunwick would be suspended for Saturday’s game. If he didn’t play on Saturday Michigan would have lost, simple as that.

With Hunwick in net, the Wolverines will always have a chance. Without him, they won’t.

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