COLUMBUS — Ever since he was hit in the facemask by a slapshot during last Friday’s win over Lake Superior State, questions have surrounded Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick and his health.
They were answered just minutes into the first period of the Wolverines’ 4-0 win over Ohio State on Friday night, when it became clear that Michigan would earn its biggest road win of the season.
“It was important the way the game started — that we capitalized and scored the first goal,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “(Hunwick) made a couple of big saves early. Coming in here, playing on the road — that was a good crowd — against a good team. … We played well. It was a good road game for us.”
Both teams had plenty of first-period opportunities, but Hunwick shut down the Buckeyes (14-5-3 CCHA, 10-4-1-1 overall) from every angle. The opening frame quickly turned into a physical battle with hits leading to shots on both ends of the ice.
That’s exactly what led to the early Michigan lead, which would prove to be decisive. The CCHA’s leading goaltender, Ohio State’s Cal Heeter, was getting all of the shots he could handle. Freshman forward Alex Guptill had a look from in tight. And nobody saw Heeter’s rebound slide out to the top of the circle.
Nobody, that is, except for junior defenseman Lee Moffie, who continued his stellar play of late with a slap-shot lamplighter. It would hold as the game’s winning tally.
“(I was) just trying to hit the net,” Moffie said. “You see (Heeter) is that far out, you just pick a side of the net — not really trying to do anything special.
“Luckily, it went in.”
Nobody was happier to see Moffie’s shot find twine than Hunwick. Hunwick admitted to feeling off his game during pregame warmups. And with the barrage of shots he faced — he turned away a career high 46 — Hunwick must have thought every goal would be needed if Michigan (13-8-4, 7-6-4-1) was to upset No. 2 Ohio State.
They weren’t, but that’s hardly to say they didn’t help build his, or the team’s, confidence. As he made glove save after glove save and several critical deflections on the penalty kill, the Buckeyes’ frustration grew, and it was clear that Hunwick was having a special night.
“With experience, you’re going to play better in big situations,” Hunwick said. “They actually got one off the crossbar early. Maybe I was nervous after that, but I was able to make a few saves and that’s key for my game. Once I’m able to settle in and make some saves — I like to get a lot of shots.”
Maybe the defense should allow 46 shots every night. Each save in succession seemed to wear down a Buckeye offense that lacked the voracity it played with in a November sweep of the Wolverines at Yost Ice Arena.
Then with time running out on the first period, another rebound led to a Michigan goal. This time, junior forward A.J. Treais used assists from Moffie and sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill to beat Heeter just as a Wolverine power play expired. Though it won’t officially show up as a power-play goal — and thus won’t end Michigan’s famine on the man advantage — the unit earned it with constant pressure.
Two empty-net goals, first from senior captain Luke Glendening, followed by Guptill, guaranteed Hunwick’s shutout and gave the Wolverines three crucial conference points.
They also guaranteed at least a series split with Ohio State after the last disastrous meeting with the Buckeyes.
With the hot streak of late — Michigan extended its unbeaten streak to eight straight games — concluding the sweep at the Frozen Diamond Faceoff on Sunday in Cleveland doesn’t seem farfetched. A carbon copy of Hunwick from Friday would make things easier against the team Berenson called “one of the best in the country.”