Great Lakes Invitational
Louis Arena • Detroit, Mich.
Wednesday, Dec. 29
Michigan vs. Michigan Tech, 4:30 p.m. ET
New Hampshire vs. Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET
Third-place game, 4:30 p.m. ET
Championship game, 8 p.m. ET
Top-ranked Boston College had the toughest road to the GLI championship
– both in scheduling and circumstances – but still
had its banner hoisted to the Joe Louis Arena rafters. After soundly
beating Michigan, 4-1, in the first round, the Eagles held on
to beat Michigan State, 4-3, in the final. And all this without
starting goalie Matti Kaltiainen, who was suspended for the tournament
because of a violation of team rules. Also in 2003, the Spartans
defeated host Michigan Tech, 7-2, in the first round, and the
Wolverines thumped the Huskies, 6-2, in the consolation game.
Michigan Tech defenseman Brad Sullivan was born on the day that
the Huskies last won their tournament – Dec. 28, 1980. As
Tech was beating Michigan, 3-2, in overtime in Detroit, Cathy
and Thomas Sullivan were welcoming their first child into the
world up in Marquette. Since that day, the Huskies have been kept
out of the winner’s circle, and 24 more of Jamie Russell’s
charges have been born.
This list is shorter than it would have been if there were no
World Junior Championship (Michigan is missing goalie Al Montoya,
defenseman Matt Hunwick and forwards Mike Brown, T.J. Hensick
and Kevin Porter), but there are still plenty of intriguing players
planning to suit up. The Wolverines boast electrifying creator
Jeff Tambellini, power forward Eric Nystrom and goal-hound Milan
Gajic up front, and solid Brandon Rogers on the blue line.
Michigan's first-round opponent, Michigan Tech, is led by dangerous
defenseman Lars Helminen and forwards Colin Murphy and Chris Conner,
even though Conner (7-6–13) is having a rough year so far,
at least by his standards. The native of Detroit suburb of Westland
is worth watching if only to see whether the GLI snaps him out
of his funk. He’s scored four of Tech’s last nine
GLI goals and has been named to the all-tournament team two straight
line of Sean Collins, Preston Callander and Brett Hemingway has
really jelled of late and is a fun bunch to watch. Hemingway is
showing a goal-scorer’s touch that might be better than
his older brother’s, and Collins has displayed a more polished
two-way game this season. Their opponent, Michigan State, still
is waiting for Hobey Baker hopeful Jim Slater to go on a tear.
He has just six goals in 18 games thus far, and several other
Spartan forwards who have shown ability to score in the past also
are gripping their sticks tightly, including David Booth, Tommy
Goebel and Mike Lalonde. Big Spartan blueliner A.J. Thelen might
be rounding into form after a subpar first half. Goalie Dominic
Vicari is probably the Montoya-less tournament’s best between
WE SEE IT
Even depleted by the WJC, Michigan should have no trouble with
the overmatched Huskies in the tournament opener. But Wednesday’s
nightcap is a little tougher to call. The Spartans smashed New
Hampshire, 5-1, back in October in East Lansing, but that might
not be as telling as it seems. The UNH coaching staff was not-so-privately
disgusted by the Wildcats’ effort in that game, and will
make it a point to play MSU with a lot more vigor this time around.
For their part, the Spartans will have a lot of crowd support
at the Joe and recent history on their side. In the first two
years under Rick Comley, the Spartans turned around their fortunes
in the second half (30-16-2 combined) after a miserable first
(16-15-2). This season might continue that trend. The game could
go either way, but let’s call it an MSU win.
On Day Two, New Hampshire likely will roll over Michigan Tech
in the early consolation game. Despite the infusion of nine freshmen
into the Husky lineup, the Houghton Heroes almost seem to be worse
off than they were during previous unremarkable seasons. Smooth
UNH freshman defenseman Craig Switzer, a product of the Salmon
Arm junior team that featured Travis Zajac and Kris Chucko, won’t
have much trouble keeping the Huskies in front of him.
championship with be the third installment of the tense rivalry
between U-M and MSU. The Wolverines swept a home-and-home series
from the Spartans by scores of 4-2 and 5-4 in early December.
Of course, that was with their full complement of players and
their No. 1 goalie. Shooting against Noah Ruden is far less intimidating
than shooting against Montoya, and that could drive up the Spartans’
sagging confidence. U-M is always dangerous up front, but without
key table-setter T.J. Hensick, the edge might go to Vicari and
the MSU defense. In an upset, Sparty gets it done.