Christmas is certainly the most wonderful time of the year. Not just because of the snow, presents, or good food, but because of some of the best tournaments in hockey. Along with international tournaments such as the World Junior Championships and Spengler Cup, the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) has become a post-holiday tradition in the world of college hockey. This year marks the 55th edition of the tournament, and it will take place once again at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Dec. 30 and 31.
The only team to ever take part in each tournament has been the original host of the GLI, the Michigan Tech Huskies. This season, the Huskies come into the tournament as one of the top teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). Top-end scoring and solid goaltending have set Michigan Tech as one of the favourites in this year’s GLI.
Stumbling Out of the Gate
The Huskies had a long history of disappointment for the better part of 30 years since head coach John MacInnes left the program after the 1981-82 season. That changed in 2014-15 when the Huskies finished second in the WCHA, leading to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1981. The following season they took their first MacNaughton Cup (awarded to the best team in the regular season) since 1976.
This year’s Huskies team, however, did not have the best of starts. After sweeping Robert Morris the opening weekend of the season, they lost six of their next seven games, including being swept by both the Alaska Nanooks and Minnesota State Mavericks.
Yet, they were able to quickly put themselves on the right track in mid-November, as they won seven of their next eight games, all against conference opponents, to bring them back towards the top of the standings. The Huskies head into the GLI with a 10-8-1 record, 8-6 in conference action placing them in a tie with the Nanooks for third in the WCHA.
Obviously, in order to win hockey games, you need to score goals, and the big reason for the Huskies’ quick turnaround was players stepping up in big moments offensively. The Huskies’ largest margin of victory this season (excluding a 7-0 win over Robert Morris) was a 4-1 win over the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves on Dec. 7. Every other game has been a tight contest where it could go either way, but Michigan Tech has found a way to squeak out win after win towards the end of the semester.
Broetzman Leads the Pack
The man leading the attack for the Huskies has been sophomore Alec Broetzman. The Hudson, Wisconsin native put up a respectable 14 points in his freshman season in Houghton, and has matched that total already in his first 19 games. This includes a big five-point game against Robert Morris, and a two-goal performance against Clarkson.
While he has gone long stretches of the season without registering a point, his confidence is noticeable when he is on the ice. His eight goals tie for eighth in the WCHA with Bemidji State’s Adam Brady and Northern Michigan’s Andre Ghantous.
10-Plus Point Talent
While Broetzman leads the Huskies in points, there are a few players that are right behind him who have made a huge impact so far this season, as five other players have amassed 10 or more points.
This includes freshman Parker Saretsky. The Wainwright, Alberta native has shown his playmaking abilities that he developed in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in his first season with the Huskies. Saretsky’s eight assists ties him with Colin Swoyer for the team lead, and his 11 points are fifth in the WCHA in rookie scoring.
Brian Halonen and Trenton Bliss have shown how they have matured in their second seasons wearing the Husky logo. Each are tied for second on the team in goals with seven, putting the two tied for 11th in the WCHA in goal scoring. They’ve each had a multi-goal game this semester, with Halonen scoring both goals against the Seawolves on Dec. 6, and Bliss scoring twice against Lake Superior State on Nov. 15.
Jurusik’s at His Best
The backbone of the Huskies’ lineup has been their veteran netminder, Matt Jurusik. Jurusik has been one of the best goaltenders in the WCHA this entire season, starting off with picking up a shutout in against Robert Morris back in October. Jurusik took a bit of hit in October, as he took losses in three straight starts.
He would miss the next four games as he gave way to Robbie Beydoun and Blake Pietila, but that move did not help the team’s fortunes. When he was given the starting job following the Huskies’ sixth loss of the season on Nov. 9, Jurusik caught fire.
Jurusik helped Michigan Tech take seven of their next eight, sending the former Wisconsin Badger’s numbers towards the top of the charts as well. His 2.00 goals-against average is fourth in WCHA, while his .924 save percentage is third only behind Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay and Bemidji State’s Zach Driscoll. If Jurusik can continue to play at this level in the GLI, he could easily steal the show as Pheonix Copley did for the Huskies back in 2012.
The Huskies certainly are one of the better teams heading into this year’s GLI. While they are not outscoring teams by wide margins, they are doing enough to get the job done. Their formula for success has been excellent defence along with stellar goaltending, which helped them get to the championship game last year.
It will not be easy for the Huskies to make it back for the fifth year in a row. In the semifinal, they will take on the Michigan State Spartans, who are ranked No. 18 in the country. Yet, the Huskies have taken the last three meetings against the Spartans in the GLI and will look to make it four-in-a-row on Dec. 30.