March 20, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

From Cinderella to Beast

Michigan Makes Run Through CCHAs to Keep NCAA Appearance Streak Alive

by Michael Florek/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — Cinderella has officially become the 600-pound beast with nine previous national championships on selection Sunday.

After a subpar 19-17-1 regular season, and with being the No. 7 seed heading into the CCHA tournament, Michigan completed a magical run through the tournament Saturday with a 2-1 win over Northern Michigan. Michigan gets the automatic bid, but also jumps to No. 12 in the Pairwise in the process.

Despite losing, Northern Michigan will still get its first NCAA tournament appearance until Walt Kyle, and first since 2000. (CHN projects it will play Cornell in the first round.)

The lengthy streak of consecutive NCAA appearances, once in serious jeopardy, is extended now to 20 seasons, and leaves a dangerous matchup for the high seed that has the unfortunate luck to draw the Wolverines in the first round. (CHN projects it will be North Dakota in Worcester.) They have won six straight games.

And it all comes on the shoulders of junior goalie Shawn Hunwick, who had played in just two games (both relief appearances) his whole career before junior Bryan Hogan got hurt eight games ago. Hunwick made 17 stops in the final game, en route to the CCHA Tournament MVP award.

“I don’t even like small goalies, I’ve always been a big goalie fan,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said as the five-foot-seven Hunwick sat next to him. “I’m a fan now. Small goalies that battle hard, and this kid is a warrior.”

Just four months ago, Hunwick was relegated to standing next to the coaching staff and watching as the Wolverines lost five consecutive games, culminating in a home loss to conference bottom dweller Bowling Green.

The team’s leading goal-scorer, junior Louie Caporusso, had just two goals and seven points in the first 11 games, including the five-loss streak. In Michigan’s six postseason games, he has six goals and 10 points and has taken over the team lead in goals with 20.

So it was only fitting that it was Caporusso who scored both goals in the game. The first one turned the game in Michigan’s favor. After junior Matt Rust lost his stick, he went to the bench for another one. Instead of getting a stick, Caporusso jumped on the ice, received a pass and beat Northern Michigan senior goalie Brian Stewart with 19 seconds left in the second. Stewart had looked unbeatable to that point.

“I just jumped out there,” Caporusso said. "I didn’t really give him a choice to be honest with you. I don’t think he cared, we scored a goal, he was happy.”

In the preseason, Michigan was picked to win the CCHA, but no one expected this, the first No. 7 seed to win the conference tournament.

So one question remains, how did this happen? For that, you have a multitude of explanations, but no one can quite describe it.

“I don’t know, maybe just the commitment, the commitment to playing sound team hockey,” Caporusso said. “Something clicked. I can’t tell you what it was but, maybe the adversity throughout the whole year, finally we just said it doesn’t matter what people say or let that stop us, we just have to work our hardest and play well.”

The other side of the ice couldn’t quite describe the magic Michigan found either.

“I knew going into the year, everyone did, they were going to be good,” Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said. “But for whatever reason, chemistry, injuries, etcetera, they stumbled a little bit. But when they found it, they found it."

The maize-and-blue will make their ordinary appearance in the NCAA tournament next year, but there was nothing ordinary about it.

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