DETROIT - The Michigan Wolverines are on a roll and after beating Northern Michigan tonight, 2-1, the Wolverines are in the NCAA Tournament for the 20th straight season.
If Michigan had lost, the streak would have been snapped.
“We had not talked about the NCAA Tournament until this morning and I reminded the team that we would not be in the tournament unless we won this championship,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “The goal this week was to try and get by Miami and get in the championship game. We talked about how if we win this game, we'll be in the tournament and if we don't, we won't. It's not about where we are, but how we got here.
"To me, this has been the most challenging way into the tournament that Michigan has had in a long time. That's good for our team and our players. Good for our seniors and good for (goaltender) Shawn (Hunwick). We've had a little more adversity than the average team and they've been amazing.”
Hunwick, playing goal in place of starter Bryan Hogan, was named CCHA Tournament MVP, but downplayed the honor after the game.
“It was a nice feeling, but I think it takes away from the team,” said Hunwick. “The guys played tremendous. I don't even know if I deserve to be an MVP. I don't even know if I deserve to be a star (of the game). The boys played tremendous and it's nice to get a little recognition. I just have to keep on going.”
“I think he's earned a spot on our playing roster,” laughed Berenson. “I don't even like small goalies. I've always been a big goalie fan, but I'm a fan of small goalies who battle hard. He is a warrior. He's not too worried, he's out there playing hard for his team and his team is out there playing hard for him. You can call it any kind of story you want. It's an opportunity and he's taking advantage of it.”
“I try to play like any other game,” said Hunwick. “I think this is the biggest game of my career. I think it's my sixth or seventh start overall, I'm not even sure. You just have to take it in five-minute segments. You win that segment and get to the next one.”
The Wildcats knew they had a battle on their hands in the title game.
“They got pucks behind us, they forechecked, they came at us from the attack, they had great back pressure, they stole the puck from us numerous times coming up ice, and we failed to get pucks in, we failed to generate a forecheck,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “Their defense did a very good job.”
Louie Caporusso started the scoring in the final minute of the second period on a Michigan power play when he jumped on the ice to replace Matt Rust after Rust’s stick snapped during a play.
“I think everyone wants a lot of power-play time,” said Caporusso. “At the same time, Matt realized it would have been quicker for me to get out there than for him to grab a stick, and who knows if that stick is good for him or not? So I just jumped out there. I didn’t really give him a choice. At the same time, hey, we scored a goal. I’m sure he was happy.”
Caporusso tallied the eventual game-winner at 8:53 of the third period in deflecting a Steven Kampfer shot from the left point.
In the third period, Michigan allowed just three Northern Michigan shots.
Brian Stewart made 33 saves for the Wildcats.
Kyle said the game, even in a loss, will help his team improve and ready itself for the regionals that start this weekend.
“I guarantee you, this game will make us better,” said Kyle. “There aren’t many teams that are going to push you like those guys pushed us tonight. They are fast and they came at us.”
Caporusso said the team is peaking at the perfect time of the season.
“It was just a commitment to play sound team hockey, defensive hockey, playing for one another, playing for the team,” said Caporusso. “Something clicked. I can’t tell you what it was, but I think maybe the adversity throughout the whole year.
“Finally, we said it’s up to us. It doesn’t matter what people say or what’s thought of us. We just have to work our hardest and play well.”
F - Louie Caporusso, Michigan
F - Ray Kaunisto, Northern Michigan
F - Carl Hagelin, Michigan
D - Erik Gustafsson, Northern Michigan
D - Steven Kampfer, Michigan
G - Shawn Hunwick, Michigan
Photos by Matt Mackinder/MiCHO