The Huskies of Michigan Technological University hit the ice for the championship game of the 51st Annual Great Lakes Invitational like a comet: bright, powerful, and then they were gone. Where they went as their skills crumbled and the University of Michigan Wolverines ultimately bested them 4 – 2 is a question that I am sure they are asking themselves. At the the end of the match however, it was Michigan who skated away with the MacInnes trophy to retain their #1 standing from last year.
The game got underway at 7:00pm at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and it was the Huskies who looked like they came to play hockey. Aggressive, composed, fast, and accurate, they kept the action moving. There was little that Michigan could do to stop the Huskies control of the puck. At the 02:55 mark of the period MTU left-wing Jake Jackson (assists: Steman, Sturos) rocketed one past Michigan’s Steve Racine in the net to go up by one. This goal marked the first of Jackson’s collegiate career. The aggressive action by Tech continued throughout the period. Michigan had a power play opportunity at 09:09 when MTU’s Malcolm Gould caught a penalty for tripping, but Tech remained solid and killed the power play with little effort. Then at 12:48, Michigan forward Tyler Motte was handed a boarding penalty and Tech had the power play advantage. Continuing to look strong and working together well, the Huskies capitalized on the power play with just :27 seconds left when Brent Baltus (assists: Auk, Roy) slid the puck around Racine for the goal. The first period went into the books, Michigan Tech 2 and Michigan 0.
When the second period opened 15 minutes later, it was as if the coin had been flipped. Michigan came back from the break energized and ready to fight, while Tech seemed completely off balance and as if they just couldn’t quite get their skates under them. Michigan marked their first goal of the game at 01:48. In an absolutely beautiful and well coordinated play, Michigan freshman left-wing Brendan Warren made a clean pass from near the far side of the right face-off circle to Tony Calderone who was positioned centered on net near the blue line. Calderone had a clear path to net and slapped a clean shot over the left shoulder of Tech goalie Jamie Phillips. For five more minutes the game continued with the Huskies looking like a completely different team than had opened the game. At 06:11 Huskie defender Dane Birks was penalized for holding and Michigan was on the power play. It took Michigan only 28 seconds to find the fabric again and the game was tied 2 – 2. Despite continued turn overs, poor passing, and puck bobbling, the Huskies managed to hold the Wolverines at two points until 19:06 when Michigan wing Alex Kile (assists: Nieves, Piazza) scored to close out the period, MTU 2 and Michigan 3.
The third period fared no better for the Huskies. The problems that had plagued them in the second period continued right into the third. Passing was poor and frequently intercepted by Michigan. Tech’s players never seemed to be in the right position to make key plays. Pucks were bobbled and seemed to get caught up in the skates, only to get taken away by Michigan. A penalty on U-M defender Joseph Cecconi at 04:45 for elbowing created a power play opportunity for the Huskies, but Michigan had no trouble killing it. Then at 07:37, it seemed that Tech might have a good opportunity to tie the game up at three when Jake Lucchini had a breakaway opportunity. Within just a short yard or two of the goal however, Lucchini allowed the puck to simply roll off the heel of his stick and whiffed the shot, turning the puck back over to Michigan. A penalty across the ice at the same time gave the Huskies the power play once again, and once again Michigan repelled it. Finally, in the waning moments of the period, MTU Head Coach Mel Pearson pulled Phillips for the one man advantage. Tech turned the puck over to Michigan a few times and Michigan failed to hit the empty net, but at 19:28 on yet another Tech turnover, Michigan defender Sam Piazza saw the opportunity to score and took it unassisted. Tech was helpless to recover the two points they were down in the last :32 seconds of the game and the Michigan Wolverines won, 4 – 2, retaining their title as the reigning champions of the Great Lakes Invitational.
At the end of the game, the All-Tournament Team, as voted by the media was presented. The team consisted of Brent Baltus (Michigan Tech), Kyle Connor (Michigan), Dominik Shine (Northern Michigan), Mark Auk (Michigan Tech), Sam Piazza (Michigan), and Steve Racine (Michigan). Michigan’s Kyle Connor was voted the tournament Most Valuable Player.