By Bob Miller/Michigan Beat Writer
Shawn Hunwick pitched a shutout for Michigan just when they needed it most. The Wolverines' dimunutive netminder faced a barrage of 40 shots from top-seeded and top-ranked North Dakota in Thursday night's Frozen Four semifinal game and emerged unscathed. Hunwick's perfection led Michigan to a 2-0 win over the Fighting Sioux and a berth in Saturday's national championship final against Minnesota-Duluth.
Playing the underdog role perfectly as well, Michigan managed an early goal by senior forward Ben Winnett and then held on until Scooter Vaughan's empty-netter clinched the contest late in the third period.
"Well, if we could have planned a road game like this, this is how you'd plan it," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "Just go to the first goal. It was huge against this team. You hate to play from behind against them, and especially if they got two. The one thing that we didn't plan was taking as many penalties as we took against their power play, and I thought we were lucky, and obviously or goalie has to be our best penalty killer.
"But our team hung on. And who would have thought that the first goal of the game would be the deciding goal. But you never know. You watch the earlier game, and there were, what, five goals scored in the first period. And this game you saw one goal scored in 59 minutes. So, it was that kind of a game. You never know. Our team is used to playing in close games, and I thought we were on our heels. We had to play in our own zone a lot. Everybody paid the price, and here we are."
Hunwick's solid goaltending has become a staple in Michigan's playoff success, both in CCHA conference playoff and NCAA tournament play. "I was pretty confident tonight," Hunwick said. "I think I'd rather be in a game like that than, you know, getting 15 checks against. Those are tough games. But when they keep coming at you, you gotta be ready. And our team did a great job tonight, and I felt like I was seeing it pretty well, like I said earlier. And it was a lot of fun."
Saturday's national championship final game sets up as a battle between offense and defense if you analyze the path Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth have followed to their final destination in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
Michigan has ridden Hunwick's goaltending and solid team defensive play with timely scoring to the final. Minnesota-Duluth has used a potent offense, especially on the power play, to punch their ticket to the championship game.
"We'll refocus tonight," said Berenson, already preparing for the championship game. "I want them to enjoy it at least for a couple of hours and then we'll start thinking about tomorrow. And, we'll have tomorrow to think about Saturday, obviously.
"But this team right now, they're easy to coach. They're all on the same page. They're in sync. I don't know if they're surprised to be here, but they earned it in St. Louis and then again, they found a way to earn it tonight. And, they had to pay the price. So, we'll figure it out. But, they'll be ready."