Hunwick embraces underdog role

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick hardly can be considered an underdog.

He has become one of the top netminders in the country, led his team to a national championship game appearance last year and has stolen games here and there for his fourth-ranked Wolverines this season.

But that doesn't mean Hunwick still doesn't consider himself an underdog.

"That's the role I like to be in, because no one expects much out of the underdog, you can just go out and play your game," Hunwick said. "I always try to bill myself as the underdog, that I'm going to go out and prove somebody wrong. I just think that takes the pressure off."

For his first 2½ years on campus, that really was what Hunwick was -- an underdog. He was overlooked by most colleges, mainly because most thought he was too small ever to be a serious goaltender for a Division I program.

At 5-foot-7, Hunwick was 7 inches shorter than the Wolverines' starting goalie, Billy Sauer, who was considered a prototypical Michigan goaltender. But everyone saw Hunwick had potential. He carried himself confidently on the ice. And after all, he was the younger brother of Matt Hunwick, who had captained the Michigan hockey team the previous season.

But that didn't mean he would play.

For 2½ years, Hunwick sat on the bench behind Sauer and Bryan Hogan.

"When you're the backup, there's no pressure on you," Hunwick said. "You show up to a game on Friday and Saturday nights and you're not on the spotlight, you're on the backburner. You're just pulling for the team. It's easy, no one is expecting too much out of you, except your coaches and teammates in practice."

But against Notre Dame on senior night in 2010, Hogan suffered a groin injury in the first period. Hunwick, who had played just three minutes in his Michigan career, was thrust into the spotlight. That night he made 14 saves in nearly 50 minutes of play en route to a 4-0 Michigan victory.

Teammate Luke Glendening understood how Hunwick felt. Glendening had been a walk-on who earned significant playing time that season.

"Everyone wanted him to do well, because he had been biding his time," Glendening said. "But I remember him getting in and people thinking, 'Can this kid stop a puck? Could he stop a beach ball?' ... But he gets in and plays phenomenally. He solidified himself that night."

Players, coaches and fans lauded Hunwick for his standout night. But to Hunwick, it was no big deal.

"I was at the point in my career where I was just going to throw all my chips in," Hunwick said. "I wasn't down on my experience or opportunity, but I pretty much knew I was at the point where it was, 'Why not?' There wasn't time to worry about it. I might as well go out there and take advantage of it."

Hunwick had been around several groin injuries before and knew most players returned a day or two later, so he figured his stint in goal would be short lived. But Hogan's injury was more serious, and Hunwick became Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson's go-to goalie.

Michigan was seventh in the CCHA when Hunwick took the net, but somehow the Wolverines won the CCHA Tournament that year on the heels of Hunwick's impressive performance, as he allowed just nine goals in six games.

The Wolverines almost made it to the Frozen Four, but bowed out in the regional final.

And through the entire thing, Hunwick kept his same attitude. He was the underdog, proving all the doubters wrong. He had studied Sauer during his sophomore and junior seasons and noticed one thing: he never let his emotions get the best of him.

Hunwick knew that would be key to his success.

Hogan returned, and the following season the two split time in net. But again, a groin injury would sideline Hogan, leaving all goaltending responsibilities to Hunwick. But last year he outdid himself and didn't just stop at a CCHA Tournament Title.

He led the Wolverines to the national cgame after beating No. 1 North Dakota in the semifinals. Hunwick had a 40-save, shutout performance, and again, it was no big deal.

Glendening remembered Hunwick sitting in the locker room before the Wolverines took the ice before the national championship game, which they would lose in overtime.

"Everyone is nervous, and Shawn is there saying, 'What's going on?' " Glendening said. "Our goalie coach said something to him, and Shawn says, 'Relax, man, I'm fine.' It was another game. He knew what he needed to do.

"The way he carries himself, he just breathes confidence. And to see that in your goalie, it's unbelievable."

This season Hunwick averages two goals against per game and has made nearly 1,000 saves with five shutouts.

And he's still the same Hunwick: relaxed, cool, collected.

So for him this weekend is just another weekend. It doesn't matter that it's the CCHA playoffs, or that it's Notre Dame (the team that gave him his first start), or that it's his last time playing in Yost Ice Arena.

Because for Hunwick, it's just another game without any pressure. And he's the underdog.

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.