Shawn Hunwick in net for the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

What happens to Rudy after he’s carried off the field?

At the end of the film Rudy, Rudy Ruettiger, all 5’6″ of him, gets carried off the field by his Notre Dame teammates, after getting on the field for the only play of his college football career. It’s one of several moments in Rudy that is designed to make manly sports fans weep the manliest tears into their manly stubble, and it is incredibly effective [1]. In the movie, Rudy’s story ends there, freeze-framed on top of the world. That’s essentially where the story ends for the real Ruettiger as well. His two plays (not one) for Notre Dame are the extent of his football career and the rest of his story takes a sordid turn.

For the young man who has been called “Hockey Rudy,” however, the story is just beginning, with the next chapter set to take place in Austria.

Shawn Hunwick, like Rudy, is undersized for his sport. He is, depending on who you ask, 5’5″ or 5’7″ and he is, of all things, a goaltender. Also like Rudy, he was a walk-on for his college team, the University of Michigan, and struggled to get into the lineup, not starting a game until his third year. Once he started, however, he couldn’t be stopped.

Hunwick led Michigan to victory in the CCHA Tournament and was named the tournament’s MVP. The following season, he posted incredible statistics while taking Michigan to overtime of the NCAA championship game, and took the team back to the Frozen Four tournament in his final season, while earning a nomination for the Hobey Baker award. His story only got better when the Columbus Blue Jackets, desperate for goaltending after a slew of injuries, signed him to a contract upon the conclusions of his college season.

wrote about Hunwick, who is the brother of Avalanche forward Matt Hunwick, back in March when he signed with the Blue Jackets and dressed for a game against the Red Wings. Hunwick dressed in a total of 5 games for the Blue Jackets, but, again like Rudy, he wouldn’t show up in the records as being on the team unless he actually got into a game.

He got his chance in the final game, in what was undoubtedly the best moment of the Blue Jackets’ awful, terrible, no-good season. Up 7-3 with just two-and-a-half minutes left to play, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards sent him out in place of starter Steve Mason. He proceeded to shutout the New York Islanders for the remainder of the game, though he was helped by the Islanders not even managing a shot on net.

It doesn’t really hit you how small Hunwick is until the end of the game, when his Blue Jackets teammates all skate up to him to congratulate him. He barely comes up to the shoulders of some of them. I guess carrying him off the ice would have been dangerous, what with the metal blades on the bottom of his feet.

That was clearly his Rudy moment, those few minutes equivalent to a play or two in football. The difference is that Hunwick has three superb seasons in the NCAA on his resume and will be continuing his dream of professional hockey in Austria.

Hunwick signed with the Salzburg Red Bulls of Austria’s top league earlier this month, joining a very good team coached by former NHL head coach and general manager Pierre Page. It wouldn’t be the same for Hunwick, however, if he didn’t have a major obstacle to overcome.

Last week, the Red Bulls signed Alex Auld, taking him off the market for any NHL team looking for a veteran backup. It also took away Hunwick’s relatively clear path to being the starter for the Red Bulls. Up until Auld signed, Hunwick’s only competition for the number one spot in Salzburg was the 18-year-old Luka Gracnar, who has played the bulk of his games for the Red Bulls’ second-tier and U18 teams.

Although Auld struggled last season, posting the worst full-season save percentage and goals against average of his career, but he’s still an NHL-level goaltender heading to Europe to play in a below-NHL-level league. The Red Bulls’ press release oversells him just a little bit, calling him an “NHL star” and an “ace.” It’s pretty certain that Auld will be the number one guy when the Red Bulls start their season.

Hunwick, meanwhile, will have to work hard in the background and wait for his opportunity to shine. Really, would he have it any other way?

Of course he would. Don’t be silly.

 

[1] In the event of a robot uprising wherein the robots look like humans and knowing the difference between a real human and a robot pretending to be a human is the difference between life and death, I recommend showing Rudy to everyone you see and using your anti-robot microwave emitter on anyone who doesn’t cry. I assume at this point in the future, everyone will have anti-robot microwave emitters on them at all times.