DETROIT, Mich. – Day 1 of the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) is in the books. Two intriguing matchups were set to determine who would meet in the title game on Tuesday. The atmosphere inside Little Caesars Arena in Detroit was exciting with all four fanbases well represented. What followed were two tight contests that kept fans on the edge of their seats.
Huskies Upset the Spartans
Game 1 of the afternoon saw the Spartans of Michigan State take on the Michigan Tech Huskies. In a very Husky-friendly crowd, Michigan Tech was searching to get back to the final for the fifth consecutive year, while Michigan State was looking to earn their first championship berth since 2014.
The game saw the Spartans start off as the better team, before the Huskies started to take over and outplay the No. 18 team in the country. A huge third period helps Michigan Tech earn its 11th win of the season by a final score of 4-2.
Both schools’ special teams were prevalent in the first 20 minutes, as a combined five minors were taken. The Spartans were able to cash in on their first opportunity early in the contest, as Sam Saliba buried his fifth of the season after a nice feed from Josh Nodler.
Michigan State controlled the majority of the first period, leading 6-1 in shots through the opening minutes. However, the Huskies were able to settle down and started to take the game over in the second half of the period. That led to a power-play goal of their own as Trenton Bliss was able to slide home his eighth goal of the season to make it a 1-1 game late in the period.
Logan Lambdin was able to get the Spartans’ lead back as he scored his fifth of the season after taking advantage of a Tyler Rockwell error just over a minute into the second period. Despite taking a 2-1 lead into the third period, it was obvious the Huskies were the better team.
The Spartans would get their fifth power play of the game just 14 seconds into the final stanza, but it would be the Huskies who would take advantage. After Mitchell Lewandowski failed to keep the puck in the Michigan Tech end, Tommy Parrottino broke down the right-wing side and fired a shot that beat MSU’s John Lethemon to tie the game at two.
Parrottino’s sixth goal of the season really turned the momentum in the game, and Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan knows how important it is for the Tech’s top guns to be producing.
“We are looking for guys to play big at the right time,” Shawhan told the media after the game. “This is what we look to get out of [the GLI].”
Michigan State ramped up the attack following Parrotino’s goal, resulting in the Spartans putting up 13 shots. However, the Huskies’ Matt Jurusik shut the door en route to a 27-save performance.
Forward Alex Smith talked about how important Jurusik has been this season following the win.
“I think he is one of the top [goaltenders] in the nation,” Smith stated. “He is a big part of our team, and you feel confident when he is in net.”
With minutes remaining in regulation, Eric Gotz walked into the slot and ripped a shot over the shoulder of Lethemon to give the Huskies their first lead of the game.
Smith added an empty-netter in the dying minutes of the game, sealing the deal and sending Michigan Tech to their seventh GLI final in eight years.
Wolverines Bite the Bulldogs
In semi-final No. 2, the invitee Ferris State Bulldogs met with the Michigan Wolverines. Both teams have struggled through the first few months of the season, and both know a win in the GLI could be a stepping stone towards turning their respective seasons around.
Michigan showed that they were familiar with their surroundings, while the visiting Bulldogs had to shake off the nerves of playing in a big-game setting early on. Despite a good second period from Ferris State, they could not generate the same chances the Wolverines were able to. Michigan was able to take advantage of a couple of Ferris State mistakes, and advanced to Tuesday’s final with a 4-1 win.
The Wolverines came ready to play in the first period, hemming the Bulldogs for long stretches of the first period. This led to a power-play goal from Jake Slaker just past the eight-minute mark to give the Wolverines the early lead.
The Bulldogs started to put offence together towards the end of the period, including breakaways for Liam MacDougall and Marshall Moise, but both were robbed by the Wolverines’ Strauss Mann.
Mann struggled through parts of his freshman year last season, but has really improved in his second season in the maize and blue.
“A year under my belt helps a lot,” Strauss explained to the media after the game. “I just feel a lot more comfortable and calmer in the net.”
Slaker would score late in the second period as he went on a breakaway after catching the Bulldog defence napping, giving the Wolverines a two-goal lead.
The third period saw Ferris unable to muster up any dangerous scoring chances. Despite a goal from Brendan MacLaren, goals from Will Lockwood and Dakota Raabe iced the game, sending Michigan to the championship game.
Despite the win, coach Mel Pearson was not impressed with his team’s performance on Monday.
“I am happy, but I’m not satisfied in the things we did,“ Pearson told the media. “You can tell we have not played since Dec. 7…we were really sluggish tonight.”
The Final Matchup
This sets up a championship game between the Wolverines and the Huskies. The last time the two programs met in the final was in 2015 when Kyle Connor led the Wolverines to their 17th GLI title.
Michigan Tech won last year’s meeting in the GLI, but have not won a championship game against the Wolverines since 1980. Historically, however, the Huskies hold the edge in title games against Big Blue, having won since 6 of the 10 meetings dating back to the 1970 tournament.
This will also be the first time that Pearson will coach against the Huskies, the team he coached from 2011 to 2017, in the final of the GLI.
Even before the Wolverines advanced, Shawhan knew which team he wanted to face on Tuesday.
“Our base would like to see us play Michigan,” he declared after the Huskies’ win. “Their staff is all from [Michigan Tech]…There is probably a little more familiarity from working with Mel and [assistant coach Bill Muckalt].”
When Pearson was told of Shawhan’s desire, he responded, “Good, he’s going to see us.”
The GLI Championship is set for 2:30 P.M. on Tuesday, following the consolation game between Michigan State and Ferris State, which is set to take place at 11:30 A.M.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.