You saw the headline — go ahead, roll your eyes.
Look at the headline, now back at me. Now back at the headline, now back to me.
You’ve probably never had a negative thought about senior goalie Shawn Hunwick. In fact, you didn’t even think about him during his first two-and-a-half years on campus. He was just a second or third-string option who only had dreamed of seeing the ice.
But last March, Hunwick enraptured you, capturing the collective heart of Wolverine nation. A fan base that was devastated when its starting goaltender went down with a groin injury in the first period against Notre Dame was introduced to its most unlikely hero — a goalie whose mask barely peeked above the crossbar in goal.
And after Hunwick spearheaded Michigan’s drive to the NCAA regional semifinal, you didn’t want to wake from the fairytale story unfolding before you. You wanted Hunwick to take the nation by storm in his senior season and claim the starting goaltending position from the get-go — in the back of your mind, you felt indebted to him for the special run.
Perhaps more impressive than Hunwick’s acrobatics in goal was the way the Wolverine defense rallied around him. Michigan had nothing to lose — its top goaltender was gone right before the CCHA tournament, which was the only opportunity for the fledgling Wolverines to advance to their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
And while Hunwick trumped all expectations, he was the first to admit that it took a full-team effort to shut down ranked opponents like Michigan State, Northern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and Bemidji State.
The consensus entering the 2010-11 season was that it was Hunwick’s job to lose.
But re-enter Bryan Hogan. The senior groomed to be the Wolverines’ starting goaltender back as a freshman was now the unfamiliar goalie. With Hogan healthy again for his senior season, Michigan coach Red Berenson elected to platoon the pair, naming no starter, but rather a 1A, 1B rotation.
For most Michigan fans, the 1A was Hunwick. They showed up in droves expecting Hunwick to once again leave them thunderstruck. He held up his end of the bargain, but the team didn’t show up — in early December he was stuck with a 2-3-4 record and only a plus-3 goal differential, mostly thanks to a 7-2 victory over Lake Superior State in late November.
Meanwhile, Hogan was 7-2-0 and receiving plenty of support on both ends of the ice.
During the week of The Big Chill at the Big House, Berenson seemed to be on the cusp of making a decision about the starting job. He named Hogan the starter for the Big Chill, only to have Hogan reinjure his groin during the warm-ups and concede the spot to Hunwick.
Michigan was in a familiar spot. It was down to a last-resort goaltender — the only difference was that this time, the emergency starter had proven himself before.
In front of the new starting man, the Wolverines went into defensive lockdown, making way for Hunwick to charm the crowd of more than 100,000 in a dazzling 5-0 victory.
While Hogan recuperated for the next month-and-a-half, Hunwick won back the confidence of any doubters, bumping his record up to 10-5-4 as the Wolverines entered February — dropping just two contests along the way.
When the team traveled to Oxford, Ohio last weekend, one familiar face was back on the Michigan bench: Bryan Hogan. Bringing him along as the backup was a signal from Berenson that Hogan is healthy enough to be depended on.
After being swept by the RedHawks, the outlook isn’t so rosy for Berenson’s troops. The defense is crumbling — perhaps a byproduct of becoming too dependent on the strong goaltending between the pipes. Hunwick hasn’t done much to disappoint the team — making save after save on point-blank opportunities — but the defense certainly has.
It’s been a one-man show in the defensive zone. Berenson hasn’t said a dissenting word about the goaltender because Hunwick simply isn’t allowing bad goals.
But something has to change, and it’s conceivable that the goalie situation could swing full-circle from where it was at this time last season.
Michigan is searching for a kick-start to return to Berenson’s mantra of taking care of defense first, and Hogan might be the flame to reignite the once red-hot Wolverines.
Considering the team’s propensity to rally around a new goaltender, especially when its back is against the wall, don’t put it past Berenson to put No. 35 back on the ice to give the team a wake-up call.
Hunwick or Hogan? 1A or 1B?
It’s time to reopen the debate.
– Nesbitt hopes you caught the Old Spice commercial reference in the second paragraph, and he can be reached at email@example.com