By Bob Miller/At Michigan Stadium
ANN ARBOR - Shawn Hunwick thought he had seen it all.
The Michigan senior goaltender had moved from the end of the Wolverine bench last season to become the emotional leader and catalyst for the Wolverines' late season run to a CCHA tournament championship and NCAA tournament regional final berth.
Hunwick had his personal version of deja vu Saturday at The Big Chill at the Big House, the outdoor hockey mega-event long-envisioned by Michigan head coach Red Berenson and pulled off extravagantly by the Michigan Athletic Department.
Eerily similar to last season, the scheduled starter in goal, Bryan Hogan, suffered a groin injury in the pre-game warm-up that left him unable to play. As he did last season, Hunwick stepped up and delivered. The Sterling Heights native stopped all 34 Michigan State shots, shutting out the Spartans in Michigan's 5-0 win.
Hunwick had to share Saturday's stage with the magnitude of the event.
The Big Chill was the first outdoor hockey game ever played at Michigan Stadium, the largest college football venue of its kind. Pre- and post-game fireworks, a Stealth bomber flyover and a crowd of 113,411 created an atmosphere unlike any had ever experienced.
The 113,411 attendees easily broke the record for largest crowd ever to see a hockey game anywhere, anytime. The throng even broke the Michigan Stadium attendance record, surpassing in number every other crowd that had watched ANY event at the storied Big House in Ann Arbor.
A pair of first period goals by freshman defenseman Jon Merrill (pictured) provided the Wolverines with all the offense they would need for the victory.
Senior captain Carl Hagelin added a pair of markers of his own and David Wohlberg finished the scoring with a third period goal.
The win leapfrogged the Wolverines at least temporarily into the CCHA standing top spot, pending the outcome of Sunday's Notre Dame-Northern Michigan game.
Michigan and Michigan State both hit the ice again in the annual holiday Great Lakes Invitational tournament at Joe Louis Arena, held between the Christmas and New Year holiday weekend.
Big Chill Game Notes
Anyone who attends a home Michigan football game is accustomed to the drive up Ann Arbor -Saline Rd. and the numerous recreational vehicles, tents, parties and the elaborate culinary spreads that a normal fall Saturday afternoon brings. A walk into the stadium on this wintry afternoon included all the same PLUS much more “antifreeze," a group of about 20 all bedecked in Santa hats and one elaborate spread that included a full cord of wood for pre- and post-game bonfires.
The Guinness connection included more than just brave souls standing in the cold with one of their favorite brews. The Guinness Book of World Records sent a representative, Mike Janela, to present Michigan director of intercollegiate athletics David Brandon with a plaque certifying the 113,411 attendance as the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game. Of course, as proper Britons, Guinness used the phrase “hockey match” instead of “hockey game.”
Michigan grad Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplay for and directed the Oscar-nominated movie that provided the moniker for Saturday's celebration, dropped the ceremonial first puck at the start of the game as a thank you for allowing the university to use the “Big Chill” name.
Take that, football!
The record attendance of 113,411 not only was the biggest crowd to ever witness a hockey game, it also marked the biggest crowd in Michigan Stadium history, topping all previous football crowds at The Big House.
Fans were treated to a pre-game fireworks display and every Michigan goal was greeted by a blast of the same pyrotechnics from several areas set up around the rink. Neither compared to the 12-minute post-game fireworks show, set to music, into the dark night air from the areas set up on the field in addition to firing off the top of the press box and private box towers. Both teams stuck around to enjoy the display.
Full musical support
Michigan;s marching band entered the field employing their traditional high stepping style and played the Michigan Fanfare plus all other selections as if it were a football game, even though they had to perform behind the end boards on the north end of the stadium. Carpeting was placed on the ice so that their drum major (field commander?) could do his traditional limbo-like move, bending back to touch the top of his shako to the ground (carpet).
At a normal regular season game at Yost Ice Arena, the usual press box crowd includes about eight to ten scribes, several broadcasting crews and a few special guests. The Big Chill press box included representatives from just about every hockey publication, organization, newspaper and wire service imaginable. And, yes, those of us who are regulars at Yost were positioned off to the sides of the press box so that the “special guests” could enjoy the center ice view.
The Big Chill vs The World Cup
A normal pre-game sight in arenas around the CCHA includes witnessing groups of players warming up in the empty corridors with a soccer ball. How much fun must it have been for about eight Spartans who used the opportunity of being at Michigan Stadium to do that warm up in the north end zone? That's just a touch better setting than the dank corridors of most CCHA arenas.
And the fourth star...
Hockey tradition calls for introduction of the game's three stars to be announced at the end of every game. Jon Merrill, Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust genuinely deserved their selection by the media as the top three performers of the game. Just as fitting, though, was the introduction of Shawn Hunwick as the unofficial fourth star for his shutout performance replacing Bryan Hogan, who was injured in the pre-game warm-up. At first reluctant, Hunwick was convinced by teammates to take the traditional turn on the ice for his selection.
Notable Quotables - Michigan
"Pretty good show, eh? That's Canadian!"
"It was something we looked forward to. We tried not to talk about it a lot, but we knew it was coming. Once the ice was laid down and we started practicing, you could see this was going to be an unbelievable event. The weather cooperated. I couldn't have been better. I don't think you could put this whole event on, with those intangibles, and get a better result."
"You couldn't have a home crowd like that and disappoint them. I think our team did a really good job of being focused and ready to play."
On the quick start:
"We got the early goals in the first period. Those were important goals."
On Hunwick filling in for Hogan:
"Hogan, as I told you on Thursday, was picked to play this game. In the warm-up before the game, Hogan went down with a groin injury. He couldn't play. It wasn't sore, there was no way he could play. Hunwick knew then that he was going to have to play and he was ready."
"It gives your team an added sense of urgency, but the kid (Hunwick) just never missed a beat. It didn't seem like it bothered him at all."
On the power play:
"I think only one other game this year we had three power play goals. We try and stay out of the penalty box so we don't end up playing a special teams game and tonight we won that game."
On Jon Merrill:
"He's been probably as consistent a player as we've had and he's a freshman defenseman. For him to step up in a game, an event, like this is pretty special. He'll never forget that."
On his perspective of the event:
"I don't know that it (the event) will be in perspective by the time I hit bed tonight, which will be in less than an hour. At some point, we'll realize that this was really something."
On the momentum coming out of this event:
"Hopefully, this will give us a boost for the second half. This is a league game, too. It's an important game. We only had one game this weekend. that was an important three points."
On Carl Hagelin:
"For me this was a bounce back game for Carl. We need him to have a good game for us to have a good game. When you have Olympic size ice out there and half of Sweden came to watch him, then he better play well and he did."
On finding out he would have to play in place of the injured Hogan:
"To be honest with you, I was a little scared. I wasn't really prepared to play. You try to do your best in practice to get ready, but it not the same. You're not mentally as sharp as you would have been. After Hogie (Bryan Hogan) went down about halfway through warmup, I tried to take as many shots as I could."
"Same thing happened last year. We started showing up and we started playing great D. Same thing today. Guys were blocking shots. Guys came back to the net on the back check. Hunwick made the saves he should have made and a few great ones as well."
Notable Quotables - Michigan State
Michigan State head coach Rick Comley
"I thought Michigan put on a great show. Tremendous crowd. Great atmosphere. When you plan something of this magnitude and it comes off this good, then they're to be congratulated."
On special teams:
"They were three for four (on the power play). The first one deflected off of our stick and Palmy (Drew Palmisano) had no chance on that. I think the third one hit our defenseman in the seat and bounced onto their stick. Sometimes the puck drops where you need it to drop and sometimes it doesn't. They're skilled, and when they get opportunities, they're good enough to take advantage of it."
On concerns about the offense:
"We've been concerned the whole first half. Scoring's been a major issue. Tough first half (of the season) and scoring has been at the root of everything."
"I thought it was really sluggish at first. I've never been in a situation in hockey where the wind impacted the game. It was tough skating into the wind. I read that their players had said that during the week. I thought the wind was a factor. They played very well. They were the better team tonight. That was one of the human elements."
On the complete experience:
"If you can separate the losing, you can't, as a person in hockey, experience anything better than what you experienced tonight."
Michigan State captain Torey Krug:
On Michigan's dominance:
"I think, as the game progressed, they just built up so much momentum. They had a lot of pride in their defense. I think it was just the momentum that built up. They had a great penalty kill in the first period. And htat kind of set the tone for the game."
On the disallowed goal:
"I think if we were awarded that goal, it would have been huge for the team. We worked really hard. If that goal stands, we build off that and I think it's a totally different game."
On Michigan's power play:
"Obviously, their power play was very effective tonight. They did a great job of moving the puck from low to high and that kind of spread us out. Playing on an Olympic size sheet, you can get lost in no-man's land. They spread us out and capitalized on their opportunities."
On looking back on this game 10 years from now:
"It's hard to say.. Obviously, it was a great experience. Nobody could have told us what it was going to be like. Before it happened. Michigan put on a great show. There are some things that a few of the guys in the room would like to have back. Ten years from now I'm still going to remember that it was the most fun I've ever had on an ice rink. We were like little kids on the ice."
Michigan State assistant captain Trevor Nill:
"It was a great experience. They did a great job with the ice. It was exciting to come out an see 113,000 people. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I'll remember."
"It was kind of a surreal experience. It's hard to really fathom that there was that many people there, but at the time, I was kind of focused on the game."
On being shut out:
"It's just one of those things that you keep on fighting and the goals will come. You just have to keep working hard and grinding it out. If you panic, you're just going to start throwing the puck away. You have to just stay focused."
Photo courtesy UM Photo Services