Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Doug Miller on 08/04/11 at 02:10 PM ET
School: University of Michigan (CCHA)
Class: Fifth-Year Senior
Weight: 166 lbs
Hometown: Sterling Heights, MI
Last season, goaltender Shawn Hunwick became one of the biggest stories in college hockey. He had an amazing Cinderella-story season, the likes of which are the kind of thing you usually only see in fictional Hollywood movies.
I’ll start his feel-good story from its humble beginnings.
After graduating from Roseville High School in 2005, he landed the starting job with the Western Ontario Hockey League’s Petrolia Jets for the ‘05-‘06 season. He had a pretty average season, by most goaltender’s standards. He posted a 17-17-0 record, 2.85 GAA, .916 SV% and registered one shutout. However, he still earned the honor of being named WOHL Rookie Goalie of the Year.
He then went on to play the ‘06-‘07 season with the North American Hockey League’s Alpena IceDiggers. With a record of 17-9-2, 3.06 GAA, .904 SV%, and again earning only a single shutout. His only honor that year, was being named one-time NAHL Defensive Player of the Week.
Following that mediocre season, Hunwick then made what would eventually turn out to be the most important decision of his hockey playing career, enrolling in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, majoring in History.
His Freshmen year in ‘07-‘08 he earned a walk-on role on the team, and made his college hockey career debut on March 14 in a game against Nebraska-Omaha… in a relief appearance, where he played a mere 2:52, making only 2 saves, and allowing no goals. This would be the only action he would see all season, although he still earned a U-M Athletic Academic Achievement Award.
Sophomore year of ‘08-‘09, he never saw even a single game of on-ice action. Shawn Hunwick’s hockey future looked pretty bleak, to say the least.
In his Junior year in ‘09-‘10, Michigan was in major trouble; as the team finished the CCHA regular season in a disappointing 7th place, and were in serious danger of losing their record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. The only hope the team had to continue the streak would be to pull off a miracle run and win six consecutive CCHA playoff games, to win the CCHA tournament, which would earn them an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
To further add to the difficulty of this seemingly impossible run, starting goaltender Bryan Hogan was injured just prior to the start of the CCHA playoffs. So the monumental task of pulling off this insane miracle run to save Michigan’s season fell on the shoulders of the unproven back-up, Shawn Hunwick, who had just recently earned his first career win on February 25, in the game against Notre Dame where he came on in relief of the injured Hogan, playing 48:49. The final game of the regular season on February 27, also against Notre Dame, would be Hunwick’s first career start and complete game… although it would result in a Michigan loss.
With the start of the 2010 CCHA Tournament on March 5, Hunwick stepped up his game considerably, with an impressive shutout streak of 102:25, spanning the first three games of the tournament, and he earned his first career shutout in the second game, a 6-0 victory over Lake Superior State. He was also instrumental in the shocking upset of tournament favorite and #1 seed Miami (OH) in the Semi-Final game on March 19. He pulled off the unthinkable, and led Michigan to their six straight CCHA playoff wins, and the 2010 CCHA Championship over Northern Michigan University. Deservingly so, he was also named to the CCHA All-Tournament Team and awarded the CCHA Tournament MVP in the process, becoming the first Wolverine goalie to ever earn that prestigious honor.
Hunwick’s run would continue in Michigan’s 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. In the Midwest Regional Semi-Finals, on March 27, Michigan defeated Bemidji State 5-1, advancing them to the Regional Finals the next day, where they would again face formidable conference rival Miami (OH) in a rematch of the CCHA Semi-Final game. Michigan and Miami (OH) would both put forth a worthy effort, with each team scoring a goal in the first two periods, with the score tied at 2-2 going into the third period, both teams were held scoreless for the next 20 minutes of play, and headed into an overtime period. Michigan appeared to have won the game after scoring a goal in overtime, but it was waved off, due to an early whistle. The two CCHA powerhouses remained deadlocked, and a second overtime period ensued, before Miami (OH) finally scored, to end the game and eliminate Michigan from the NCAA tournament, in a game still considered very controversial to Michigan fans.
Shawn Hunwick’s impressive underdog run came to an end, with his final numbers from his Junior season at Michigan resulting in a 8-3-0 record, 1.82 GAA, .918 SV% and 1 shutout. He was honored with U-M’s Alton D. Simms Award for most improved player, as well as being the recipient of the Roy H. & Helen M. Ziegler Scholarship for Men’s Ice Hockey.
Entering into his Senior season at Michigan in 2010-2011, most people had written off Hunwick as an inexperienced and mediocre goaltender who just happened to get hot at the right time the previous season. As such, Hunwick ended up alternating games with fellow Senior, Bryan Hogan. They made for an impressive tandem, although Hogan ended up winning more games, and thus his role as starter seemed all but a lock for the season.
That was until a historic date for Michigan hockey, college hockey… and well, hockey in general. December 11, 2010, the date of the much-hyped and highly anticipated “The Big Chill at the Big House” game. Held outdoors at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, it would be a matchup of long-time rivals Michigan and Michigan State. The game was expected to shatter the previous record for attendance of a hockey game, which was 77, 803 - set at the opening game of the 2010 IIHF World Championship, held in Germany. Guinness World Records officially certified an attendance of 104, 173 - which did indeed shatter the previous record, by an impressive 35,000 or so people.
There wasn’t much speculation about who legendary Michigan head coach, Red Berenson, would pick to be the starting goaltender for this historic game, and no one was surprised when he announced that Bryan Hogan would get the starting job for the biggest stage a hockey game had ever seen. However, as fate would have it, Hogan ended up pulling his groin during warm-ups. So with zero time for any kind of mental preparation, Shawn Hunwick was thrust into the biggest spotlight hockey had ever seen. I don’t think many of us can imagine the kind of pressure that comes with being the goaltender for the home team in front of the largest crowd to ever gather to watch a hockey game, let alone being given this news just before the start of the game.
Hunwick didn’t appear the least bit phased though, as he went out and exceeded all expectations, pitching his second career shutout with 34 saves, as he led Michigan to a 5-0 victory in this world record college hockey classic.
With Hogan now again out with an injury, Hunwick ran with the starting job, and in impressive fashion no less. He was named as CCHA Goalie of the week for December 13, following his performance in the “Big Chill” game. He then lead Michigan to win their record 14th Great Lakes Invitational tournament title on December 29-30, being named to the GLI all-tournament team in the process. Then pitched his third career shutout in another game against MSU, with 28 saves on January 8. His next shutout performance came with a 36-save effort against Alaska on January 21. Hunwick also again proved to be clutch when it mattered most, posting a career-best eight game win streak from February 11 - March 12, which not only led Michigan to steal the CCHA regular season title from rival Notre Dame in the final game of the season, but also advanced them all the way to the CCHA Tournament Semi-Finals, when his win streak came to an end as Michigan was defeated by Western Michigan 5-2 on March 18.
However, thanks to Hunwick’s winning streak, which earned Michigan the CCHA regular season title, the team earned an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, extending the school’s record to 21-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. In the West Regional of the NCAA tournament, Hunwick’s MVP performance included a new career-best shutout streak of 110:40, from March 25-26, as Michigan won the West Regional, and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four National Championship tournament. Hunwick was named the NCAA West Regional’s Most Outstanding Player and also named to the All-Region Team, having stopping 48 of the 51 shots he faced in the Regional tournament.
As Michigan had advanced to college hockey’s final four… this would result in what would be Hunwick’s greatest challenge to date in his career, as Michigan was matched up against college hockey’s best team at the time, and heavy Frozen Four tournament favorite, the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux. The epic Semi-Final game took place on April 7, with Michigan being a heavy underdog to the mighty North Dakota team. Michigan managed to score a goal 13:26 into the first period, despite being heavily out played, their only hope of winning the game, rested on Shawn Hunwick’s ability to shut down UND’s powerful high-scoring offense. In what nearly everyone considers to be Hunwick’s best performance of his career, he stood on his head, stopping every single one of the 40 shots that North Dakota threw at him, with many of them being simply brilliant saves. As Michigan ended up getting heavily outshot, 40-20, and 26-7 over the final two periods. Michigan’s Scooter Vaughn iced the game, scoring an empty net goal with 36 seconds remaining in the third, resulting in Michigan’s massive upset, defeating North Dakota 2-0.
The NCAA Championship game was now considered to be wide-open as Michigan would face Minnesota-Duluth in the Final on April 9. This also turned out to be a pretty epic game, as both teams played extremely well, and ended up tied 2-2 after the first two periods of regulation. Both teams were held scoreless in the third period, and then went into overtime. However, not long into overtime, Michigan iced the puck, not once, but twice in the same shift, leaving their players exhausted and unable to change lines. Minnesota-Duluth capitalized on Michigan’s inability to clear the zone, and Kyle Schmidt scored the championship winning goal 3:22 into overtime. This would be Red Berenson’s first ever loss in championship game in his legendary career as Michigan’s head coach. However, Shawn Hunwick was still named the 2011 NCCA Frozen Four’s best goalie, and deservingly so, considering his 40 save shutout against UND, and his 35 save effort in the classic National Title game. He was also named to the NCAA All-Frozen Four team.
Shawn Hunwick’s final numbers from his outstanding Senior season are as follows… a 22-9-4 record, 2.21 GAA, .925 SV% (a new school record for a single season) and a total of 4 shutouts. He was also named the CCHA’s Best Goaltender for the 2010-2011 season, having the lowest GAA in conference play, an impressive 1.95. Other honors for that season include being named to the All-U.S. College Hockey Online first team, and a U-M Raeder’s Raiders Spirit Award.
His current career totals at Michigan are a 30-12-4 record, 2.12 GAA, .924 SV%, and 5 shutouts. Both his career GAA and SV% currently rank first in the school’s storied record books.
Now that I’ve gone over his past history, let’s examine what Hunwick’s future has in store, as he will remain at the University of Michigan for the upcoming 2011-2012 season, as a Fifth-Year Senior. He has already been named as an alternate captain for the team. However, with highly touted goaltending prospect John Gibson having committed to Michigan, after spending the previous two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, before being drafted 39th overall by Anaheim this past June, at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Hunwick was expected to play back-up to Gibson this upcoming season… but yet again, it seems that fate would swing things in Hunwick’s favor, as I reported last week in my “Around the Leagues” segment of this blog - John Gibson decommitted from Michigan last Wednesday (July 27) and instead opted to sign a deal with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. Meaning that Shawn Hunwick will be the No.1 Goalie at Michigan this year… and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t earned the right to do so.
He’s going to be one of college hockey’s players to keep an eye on this year, as he has yet to disappoint when given the opportunity to play. Plus, after his outstanding performance last season, he’s silenced all of his previous critics. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Shawn Hunwick though… is the fact that he’s still remaining largely ignored by pro scouts, despite his obvious high level of talent. This undoubtedly stems from his height though, at a mere 5’7”, he has likely been considered “too small” to ever have a pro career.
Of course we’ve heard the same thing about plenty of other great players, who have eventually found their way into the NHL one way or another. Perhaps Hunwick will end up following a similar route to another goaltender native to the state of Michigan, who also had a fairly successful college career, but who’s style was considered “too unorthodox” to ever play in the NHL… and who eventually went on to play the majority of his pro career over in Europe before finally being given a chance by an NHL team. Yes, I’m referring to none other than last season’s winner of both the Vezina and Conn Smyth trophies… Tim Thomas. I see many similarities between the two of them… more so than I have time to point out.
The truth is though, no one really has any idea of what Hunwick’s hockey future might be… as I was unable to find any answers to this intriguing question… so unless I get the chance to ask him about it myself, we’ll just have to wait and see what his future might hold. Next season should be a real treat though, as it will represent Hunwick’s first chance to be the starter from day one… and for now we can only imagine what he might lead the Wolverines too next season, which kicks off on October 4 with a home game against Niagara
Anyway, it’s one thing to read about Hunwick’s incredible play in net… but really, you have to see if for yourself. Which is why I’ve gone ahead and included several videos of highlights and interviews from some of Hunwick’s key career moments mentioned in this blog post. Some game footage was sadly unavailable, but I brought you the next best thing if that was the case. Enjoy.
Post-Game from Hunwick’s First SO vs LSSU in 2010 CCHA Tournament (game footage unavailable)
Post-Game Press Conference from Michigan’s Upset over Miami (OH) in 2010 CCHA Tournament (game footage unavailable)
Michigan Wins 2010 CCHA Championship Over NMU - Part 1 (game highlights)
Michigan Wins 2010 CCHA Championship Over NMU - Part 2 (post game honors and interviews)
The Big Chill at the Big House - Highlights (w/player and coach interviews)
Hunwick’s Shutout vs MSU - January 8, 2011 (game highlights)
Hunwick’s Highlight Reel from Mid-2010-2011 Season
Hunwick’s Candid and Humorous Interview from Practice Late in 2010-2011 Season
Michigan Upsets North Dakota in 2011 NCAA Frozen Four Semi-Final (game highlights)
Hunwick’s ESPN Post Game Interview from 2011 NCAA Frozen Four Semi-Final
Post Game Recap of U-M vs UND 2011 NCAA Frozen Four Semi-Final (player interviews and additional highlights)
Shawn Hunwick’s Locker Room Interview from 2011 Frozen Four Semi-Final
2011 NCAA Frozen Four National Championship Game (Michigan may have lost, but it was still a classic)
University of Michigan’s Highlight Reel from Entire 2010-2011 Season (which I’ve thrown in to make myself feel better about that last video)
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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