ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before Thursday night’s game against Notre Dame at Yost Arena, Michigan junior backup goaltender Shawn Hunwick had only seen action in one game, 18 minutes worth, in his entire three-year career with the Wolverines.
When mainstay Wolverines’ netminder Bryan Hogan, who had logged nearly all of the goaltending minutes this season, suffered a groin injury at 10:49 of the first period, Hunwick was forced into duty for the second time in his career.
Hunwick not only preserved the Wolverines’ 4-0 victory, he shut out the Fighting Irish for the remaining 49 minutes, and Michigan walked away with an important three points in the battle for playoff position in the CCHA standings.
Hunwick had replaced Hogan for just most of the third period in the Wolverines’ Great Lakes Invitational tournament opening round game late in December against RPI.
In that sole appearance, Hunwick backstopped a Wolverines’ third period comeback to tie the Engineers late in the game, only to give up a late goal himself in Michigan’s 4-3 loss to RPI.
“From the beginning, Coach (Red Berenson) has called me the relief pitcher,” said Hunwick. “He has told me to always be ready and prepare all week like I’m going to play.”
“The game didn’t go the way we thought it would,” said Berenson. “We expected it to be a real close game. Then, Hogan does down and all of a sudden there is a lot of attention on Hunwick. The team gave him a good game and he gave the team a good game.”
Four different Wolverines scored a goal apiece in the win, setting up a crucial rematch with Notre Dame Saturday night in South Bend as Michigan tries to sneak into fourth place and cop a first-round bye in CCHA postseason play.
“As the game wore on, it was a tight game,” said Berenson. “With a 2-0 lead going into the third period, we knew they were a good team and all they needed was one break or one power-play goal and it’s a different game. The game went our way tonight, and I feel good about that. We will have to refocus for Saturday, but tonight was a good night for Michigan.”
The win positioned Michigan in sixth place in the conference rundown, one point ahead of Northern Michigan, one point behind Nebraska-Omaha and two points behind Alaska.
Nebraska-Omaha and Alaska have completed their regular season play and Northern Michigan has a pair of home games on the weekend with rival Lake Superior.
Hunwick’s stint in goal didn’t end with Thursday night’s game, since Hogan is expected to miss Saturday’s contest with Notre Dame
“They didn’t give us much after the kid (Hunwick) went in net,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “I don’t know if you could honestly say that we had a really good scoring chance after he went in. Give Michigan their due. The played good defensively and they were opportunistic. They scored everything but a five-on-five goal.
“It’s been frustrating since the start of the season in a lot of ways,” said Jackson of his team’s offensive woes. “It’s a matter of our forwards making plays under pressure. That’s what it really boils down to. We’ve got guys who have a history of scoring in the past, but we don’t have any consistency in our offensive game right now. We don’t have the confidence in our offensive game and we don’t have the consistency either.”
Even though Hogan’s first period injury could have easily negatively defined the period, Michigan jumped to a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes.
Hunwick entered the game at 10:49 and stoned the Fighting Irish for the remainder of the period, stopping all five Notre Dame shots.
With the teams playing four-on-four at 11:57, Michigan junior defenseman Chad Langlais took a feed from Brian Lebler at his own blue line and streaked down right wing,
Just after entering the Notre Dame zone, Langlais cut to the center of the ice and unleashed a shot at the Fighting Irish goal. The shot hit the base of Johnson’s stick, bounced 12 feet straight up, landed behind the Fighting Irish goaltender, and trickled in for the game’s opening goal.
While short-handed, the Wolverines struck again at 16:01. Carl Hagelin grabbed a loose puck and broke down the ice two-on-one with linemate Matt Rust. Hagelin carried the puck into the left circle and found Rust at the right corner of the Notre Dame net for an easy tap in. The goal was Rust’s second short-handed effort of the season.
After a scoreless second period, Michigan added two more in the third period while protecting Hunwick with solid defensive team play.
At 1:32, Chris Summers wristed a screened shot from the right point that beat Johnson.
Lebler wrapped up the scoring at 8:17 with a power-play goal on a shot that rebounded off Johnson directly to the leg of Notre Dame defenseman Teddy Ruth and back into the Fighting Irish goal.
Notre Dame (12-15-8, 8-12-7-2 CCHA) will try to build some momentum for their playoff run in Saturday’s regular season finale as Michigan (19-16-1, 14-12-1-0 CCHA) vies to move up in the standings.