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Zach Helfand: The midnight gesture of Shawn Hunwick

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 24, 2012

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The crease is empty now.

The custodians in the Resch Center stands are picking up trash, and with plastic gloves they shove Skittles wrappers and used napkins and programs that show a picture of a 5-foot-6 goaltender that used to play for the Michigan hockey team into a large plastic trash bag.

It is a quarter till midnight.

Below them, on the ice, the crease is empty.

Forty-nine minutes ago, at 10:56 p.m., it wasn’t. Forty-nine minutes ago, there was a goaltender named Shawn Hunwick lying on his right side across that crease, and a puck was there, just past the crown of his helmet.

Hunwick lay there for a moment then rolled over. He picked himself up, and for a fleeting second he stood there in that crease with his arms on the cross bar, looking up at something in the ceiling.

There he was again, three years in a row with the same result. For three years, the final puck of the season was in his goal and not in his glove, and the only difference was that this time there was no next year.

So he crouched down and grabbed that puck and put it in his glove. For once, he would skate off with it.

He made toward the benches, toward his teammates, toward his friends. They said little.

As they patted him on the back, he skated on until he arrived not as his bench, but at the bench next to it, where he found a Cornell assistant coach.

For the last time, Hunwick took the puck out of his glove, and he handed it to the coach whose team had just defeated him. It was their goal, not his, and he wanted them to have it.

Behind him, workers took the goal off its moorings and moved it through the tunnel.

After shaking hands, Hunwick skated off past that empty crease.

Thirty seconds later and one time zone away, clocks at Yost Ice Arena blinked to midnight.

***

Somehow, Cinderella stayed at the ball for three mesmerizing years.

The kid who was too small to get a chance in goal, got a chance in goal. The goalie who wasn’t good enough to start, started. The starter who wouldn’t possibly win, won.

He led Michigan on its miracle run to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth in 2010, and then willed it into the National Championship game the following year.

He was the team’s best player all season, but he was more than that.

“What can you say to Hunwick?” said senior forward Luke Glendening. “He’s been the rock of this team for three years now. Words can’t describe what you say to him.”

Three years' worth of memories came tumbling toward Hunwick eight minutes into the overtime period against Cornell on Friday. Three years of chance injuries and breaks, three years of saves, three years of improbable wins, burst past Derek DeBlois and Kevin Lynch.

A lifetime of those who told him he would never make a save for Michigan stared Hunwick in the face and dared him to save a Greg Miller wrister.

And, with an outstretched pad save, he did.

If this really were Cinderella, if this were a fairy tale, that would be that.

Michigan would ride the momentum of that great save to a season-saving overtime win.

But this isn’t a fairy tale and there are no happily ever afters, even for Shawn Hunwick. This is college hockey, and this is single-elimination, and the players? Humans.

So that wasn’t that, Michigan didn’t go down and score, and Hunwick didn’t get the ring.

“Shawn Hunwick here has had a Cinderella year,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I wish he could’ve had a better ending.”

And the ending? All-too-human: Hunwick couldn’t control the rebound, Rodger Craig put the puck into the open net, and at 10:56 on a rainy night in Green Bay, Wisc., the career of the most improbable goalie in Michigan hockey history ended.

***

Losing the battle against tears, Shawn Hunwick passes Cornell coach Mike Schafer at 12:23 a.m.

Schafer was walking to the podium to speak to the media. Hunwick was walking out.

“One of the classiest things I’ve seen in 25 years of coaching,” Schafer would say of Hunwick’s gesture to Cornell after the game.

Outside, in a concrete hallway, a man whose Cornell tie matches Hunwick’s eyes taps the former Michigan goalie on the shoulder and shakes his hand.

Hunwick turns to his right toward his locker room. He stops, then turns back and calls out:

“Good luck tomorrow.”

You too, Shawn.


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