It’s been a long time since I’d written about sports here (for that matter, it’s been a long time since I’d written about anything here), but I feel compelled to write about it now, a little more than 12 hours has passed since the Michigan Wolverines hockey team had their season ended way sooner than many fans had hoped…and no less agonizing than the year before when the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs scored in OT to win the Frozen Four Championship (not sure what I’m talking about? If you watched any of the NCAA hockey coverage on ESPNU or ESPN3.com yesterday, then you saw the highlight pretty much EVERY COMMERCIAL BREAK. It doesn’t sting any less with repeated viewings, ESPN, thanks).
The start of this game gave plenty of hope, simply because Michigan started off quickly and took control early. Compared to the CCHA Championship weekend games against Bowling Green and Western Michigan where they found themselves trying to dig out of two-and-three goal holes, the start against Cornell couldn’t have gone much better. Luke Glendening scored just 1:11 into the game, and then just :13 seconds later Kevin Lynch appeared to make it a 2-0 game and the Wolverines looked like they might just steamroll all over Big Red. An official review would overturn Lynch’s goal however, and then a combination of the Wolverines deflating/Big Red getting their legs under them would make this contest much closer than it looked like we’d all get to see. I really am torn on the goal being overturned: my Michigan bias thought that goal should’ve counted since the goaltender interference came just as much from a slight bump by Luke Moffatt as it did from a Cornell defender, but as someone that’s also dabbled in playing goal I’d be pissed off if I didn’t have a shot at making the save.
Special teams had a huge part in Michigan’s downfall: Cornell was able to score on the power play to tie the game up later in the first period, and then early in the second period Big Red took the lead on a shorthanded goal (the first SHG the Wolverines had given up this season couldn’t have come at a much worse time). If it seemed like the Wolverines spent a decent portion of that game on the power play, they did-but they couldn’t score with the man-advantage once. Not to take away anything from Cornell’s special teams or the play of goaltender Andy Iles (they were stellar), but a team with Michigan’s firepower throughout the lineup can’t have that many chances and not bury them. Down 2-1 heading into the third, and for a large portion of that period it seemed the Wolverines just couldn’t get anything going until Kevin Lynch scored the game-tying goal with about four minutes left. An odd-man rush and some very mediocre back-checking led to Cornell’s OT goal: Shawn Hunwick made the initial save but couldn’t control the rebound, giving Big Red forward Rodger Craig the easy tap-in. Bubble burst, season ended too soon.
Speaking of Shawn Hunwick, the fifth-year senior that by most accounts was never even supposed to see ice time at Michigan and yet proved everyone wrong: man, he’ll be missed. There’s no way Michigan keeps the NCAA record streak of tournament appearances alive in 2010 without a stellar performance from Hunwick to win the CCHA Tournament. There’s no way Michigan gets to the Frozen Four final without Hunwick carrying the team and shutting down the cage night after night. Easily one of my all-time favorite players to ever wear the Maize & Blue, up there with RB Mike Hart and guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. Not much was expected from any of those guys, but every single one of them delivered above & beyond and helped the Wolverines in their own way. So Shawn: thank you.
For the record, Michigan Daily’s Zach Helfand wrote one hell of an article about Hunwick and you should definitely check it out: The midnight gesture of Shawn Hunwick.