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SportsMonday Column: Closing the book on the unlikely career of Shawn Hunwick

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 25, 2012

Shawn Hunwick’s entrance was scripted.

When Shawn finally heard his name called, he was supposed to explode off the bench, tear across the ice pumping his first and turn sharply into his crouch when he reached the crease.

He was supposed to re-enact the famous scene from the 1993 film Rudy. Shawn Hunwick would be Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. The kickoff would be a faceoff. Notre Dame Stadium would be Yost Ice Arena.

Shawn turned to Chris Porter and laughed at the idea.

It was the first time the 5-foot-6 wisp of a goaltender had been compared to Rudy. Chris, the younger brother of Michigan’s second Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter, was on to something.

“Five fist pumps as you run out there, just like Rudy,” Chris said.

“No one’s going to remember you if you’re only going to play a few plays anyway, so you’ve got to do something funny.”

But that wasn’t how Shawn Hunwick would be remembered.

***

Seated in the open-air patio outside BTB Cantina on South University Avenue, with the sun beating down on a warm summer afternoon, Shawn called his shot.

It was August 2007, and Shawn, a third-string freshman goaltender, declared that he would be the Michigan hockey team’s starting goaltender before it was all said and done.

That might normally fly. But not for this last-resort goalie. That’s because his brother, senior defenseman Matt Hunwick, was seated beside him.

“Hey, even though you think that, you can’t say that stuff,” Matt said, pulling Shawn aside. “You’re coming here to be a role player, so you need to know your role and accept that.”

Shawn wasn’t really serious. Truth be told, he didn’t even belong there. Just a few months earlier, he was preparing to join the hockey team at Division-III Adrian College, when he got a chance phone call.

It was Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, two of his brother’s teammates at Michigan. Steve Jakiel didn’t show up for spring workouts.

“We need a third goalie. Do you want us to talk to coach?” they asked.

“Sure, I guess,” Shawn said.

Small beginnings.

Later that week, he dressed up fancy, shaved, made sure his blonde hair was standing just right and marched into Michigan coach Red Berenson’s office. When Shawn marched back out, he was still missing something.

He forgot to ask one question, so he called Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers to clarify.

“I had to ask Billy if I actually got a spot on the team, because I didn’t comprehend what they were saying to me,” Shawn remembers.

He had a spot. But that was it.

Shawn was the third-string goaltender, firmly planted behind junior Billy Sauer and freshman Bryan Hogan.

“I remember reading on one blog, where someone wrote, ‘(Hunwick) is a waste of space. I’m not sure why we’re bringing him in. He’s going to stand at the end of the bench with a clipboard,’ ” Hunwick said.

“That’s pretty much what I was for the first three years I was here. That’s where I thought I was going to be.”

Shawn finally made his freshman debut in a 10-1 rout of Nebraska-Omaha on March 14, 2008. He didn’t pump his fist as he skated onto the ice, as he’d forgotten all about being Rudy.

“I think everyone (in the crowd) was probably scared when I first came in, thinking, ‘Who’s the little midget in the net?’ ” Shawn said.

He played two minutes and 52 seconds. He didn’t see the ice the next season. That was alright.

“Back then is when I wasn’t even sure if I could play, so I wasn’t too beat up about not playing,” Shawn said. “I was just more safe and sound on the bench.”

But that wasn’t how Shawn Hunwick would be remembered.

***

Shawn carved up the crease at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. It was a big day.

He had vaulted Michigan into the National Championship game against Minnesota-Duluth by shutting out No. 1 overall seed and perennial powerhouse North Dakota two nights earlier.

And it was Shawn’s 24th birthday.

After a lingering groin injury had sidelined Hogan for the second half of the season, Hunwick had taken over. He did the same thing a year earlier, as a junior, when he filled in for Hogan in the last light of the regular season and carried Michigan to the brink of a Frozen Four berth, before Miami (Ohio) finally prevailed in a double-overtime thriller.

But now he was in net for the championship game. He was no emergency fill-in — he was Berenson’s starter. He was Michigan’s star.

He was Cinderella. He was “Tiny Jesus.” He was Rudy.

And the birthday boy was still a walk-on. Michigan’s star goaltender was still paying for college, splitting a scholarship with junior captain Luke Glendening.

It’s a funny thought, all things considered.

“It’s what we signed up for. We came in as a walk-ons. We could have gone ...”

He paused.

“Actually, neither of us could have gone anywhere else.”

Shawn laughed. He and Glendening really didn’t have other options. If Michigan hadn’t called, Glendening would have joined Shawn at the Division-III level, playing football at Hope College or Wheaton College.

Matt, a Colorado Avalanche defenseman, had been helping out, paying for his younger brother’s tuition at Michigan. Halfway through his senior season, a few months before the national title game, Berenson told Hunwick that he finally had a full scholarship open. Shawn was coming back for a fifth year.

Michigan lost to Minnesota-Duluth in overtime. The Cinderella story was on hold. Rudy had come up short — on his birthday.

But that wasn’t how Shawn Hunwick would be remembered.

***

What happens when fairytales don’t end happily — is the story forgotten?

Shawn wrestled with the question. He doesn’t know exactly what happens next. His journey is over. Michigan lost in overtime again, this time to Cornell. In three NCAA Tournaments, Shawn had lost three times — each time a 3-2 final in sudden-death overtime.

Less than 48 hours after the game, Shawn sank back into his seat and gazed across Dewey Street on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

He hadn’t expected it to end this early. But, then again, he didn’t expect it to ever begin. From the most inglorious roots came a star that won’t be forgotten.

“When I got to Michigan, I didn’t think I’d be remembered at all,” Shawn said. “It’s not like you’re not remembered, but you probably won’t be remembered by the fans, you’re definitely going to be remembered by the people inside the program.

“That’s what I thought I was going to be. No one’s ever going to know my name. I’m not going to get spotted on campus.”

Shawn won’t be remembered for his three years holding a clipboard. He’ll be remembered for being a Hobey Baker finalist.

He won’t be remembered for three consecutive season-ending overtime losses. He’ll be remembered for being the No. 1 goalie in Michigan history in goals-against average (2.05) and save percentage (.928), and seventh in wins (54).

He won’t be remembered for failing to repay Berenson with a national championship. He’ll be remembered for being the closest we’ll come to Cinderella, to Rudy.

Shawn doesn’t know what’s next. One NHL team followed him during the season, but he’s hedging on a few offers he’s had from East Coast and European teams. He’ll figure it out in the next week or so.

He’ll give himself two or three years in hockey. If nothing works out, he’ll turn to coaching or front-office hockey administration.

“Obviously, it’s a little nerve-wracking when you don’t know where you’re going to go,” he said with a nervous laugh.

For now, he’s very much where he was when he arrived at Michigan — waiting for his chance.

“The last few years I’ve been playing with house money. Pretty much my whole time at Michigan has been house money. I was never expected to be here, so everything I did here was adding on top of that.”

Shawn Hunwick’s entrance was scripted. His legacy, though, wasn’t.

And that’s how Shawn Hunwick will be remembered.

— Nesbitt can be reached at stnesbit@umich.edu or on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt.


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