In the week of practice leading up to The Big Chill at the Big House, there was one topic that Michigan coach Red Berenson continued to push aside: which goaltender he would slate to start in goal against Michigan State.
Berenson alternated the goaltenders during the first 18 games of the season, but he made it clear that both seniors, Shawn Hunwick and Bryan Hogan, had equal opportunity to claim the starting spot on Saturday in Michigan Stadium.
After practice on Thursday, Berenson finally answered that Hogan would get the nod for the 12th-ranked Wolverines.
“Hunwick’s not out of the loop (for the starting job later this season), he’s just not going to start this game,” Berenson said on Thursday.
For Hunwick, the decision was disappointing, but not unexpected, since Hogan held a 7-2-0 record compared to Hunwick’s 2-3-4.
“I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Hunwick said.
But when Michigan lined up for the opening faceoff against the Spartans, it wasn’t Hogan in net, it was Hunwick.
During the pre-game skate, Hogan suffered an apparent groin injury and had to be helped into the locker room, leaving 5-foot-7 Hunwick to guard the net in front of a world-record crowd of 113,411 on ice hockey’s largest-ever stage — Michigan Stadium.
“I saw (Hogan) go down in warmups, and obviously that’s something you don’t want to see, but at the same time I knew that I had to start getting ready,” Hunwick said following the game. “We were halfway through warmups at that point, so I tried to face as many shots as I could the rest of the way and try to get in the right mindset.”
But the lack of notice didn’t faze the netminder, who was in a similar position against Notre Dame on Feb. 25 last season. Hogan went down with a groin injury, leaving Hunwick to handle the goalie duties for the first extended experience of his career.
Against Notre Dame, Hunwick finished up without allowing a goal. Against Michigan State in The Big Chill, he pitched another shutout — the team’s first of the year — backstopping the Wolverines to a 5-0 win while stopping 34 Spartan shots.
“Maybe I just need to get myself out of the way — my mind — and just get thrown in there,” Hunwick said.
“If you’re going all week, playing the biggest game of your life, you can talk about pressuring yourself, but if 15 minutes before the game Coach says, ‘You’re going,’ then there aren’t really any excuses you can make. I didn’t want to be the reason that we lost, making an excuse that I was cold or wasn’t ready to play.”
It certainly wasn’t in Berenson’s master plan for The Big Chill, but three days after relegating Hunwick to reserve duties behind Hogan, Berenson couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance.
“The kid – he just never missed a beat,” Berenson said. “It didn’t seem like it bothered him at all, so good for him and good for our team.”
Fireworks punctuated every Wolverine goal. Although Hunwick didn’t set off any mid-air explosions, he lit up the stadium with save after save in his role as emergency relief.
“When I came out of the tunnel, the fireworks were going off and all that hoopla, if you will. In the first period, I was battling a little bit to stay focused, because I was looking around in awe.”
To cap off Hunwick’s perfect game, the Michigan crowd gave him a perfect send-off. After the first three stars were announced — Michigan senior forwards Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust, and freshman defenseman Jon Merrill — the Wolverines and their crowd called for one more name to be mentioned.
Finally, with the players at the bench gesturing Hunwick toward the middle of the ice, the stadium announcer added Hunwick’s name to the list as the ceremonial fourth star of the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Michigan’s smallest star took a tour of the center-ice circle.
“I don’t really like that kind of stuff if you don’t notice,” Hunwick said. “I don’t really like being out there in the spotlight. The guys were pushing me out there so I thought, ‘what the heck.’ ”
As the curtains closed on college hockey’s biggest game, it was the little man who owned the Big House.