Dec. 28, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Like many Michigan State players, Torey Krug grew up with great interest in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena.
Krug, the Spartans' junior captain and standout defenseman, says he used to watch a lot of games on TV and managed to trek down to JLA from his home in Livonia to catch a some games in person.
"It was awesome to watch. It was Michigan State, Michigan and Michigan Tech and one other school every year, and you wished you were on that stage,'' Krug said. "And here I am today, getting to play in it.''
This will be Krug's third GLI. He still savors the feeling and memory of his first as a freshman, when MSU routed Michigan Tech 10-1 in the semifinals and Rensselaer 6-1 in the finals, to win the 2009 GLI championship.
"It was an awesome feeling. I had watched so many on TV and been at a few and here I was celebrating with my teammates,'' he said. "A lot of my friends and relatives were up in the stands.
"The coolest part, the part that I was most excited about was that our (team) picture will be hanging in the hallway (outside the Spartans dressing room) along with all the other Spartan teams that won it. Nobody can take that away."
For Krug, however, one picture is not enough. He wants to see himself in second team photo, celebrating a GLI title with his current teammates.
With the 15-day holiday break over, Krug and the Spartans are back on the ice and eager to make the second half of the season even better than the first, in which MSU compiled records of 10-6-2 overall and 6-5-1-1 in the CCHA.
The No. 14-ranked Spartans open play in the 47th annual GLI against Michigan Tech (9-9-1 overall, 6-7-1 WCHA) at 4 p.m. Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. No. 20 Michigan (9-8-3, 5-6-3 CCHA) and No. 3 Boston College (12-6, 9-4 Hockey East) meet in the second semifinal at 7:30 p.m.
Over the last five seasons, MSU has captured two GLI titles while Michigan has won three times, including last season against Colorado College.
The Spartans and Wolverines have not played since Dec. 10. The Eagles last played on Dec. 9, while the Huskies' last game was on Dec. 16. So, all four teams will be trying to shake off the rust, get their legs back and try to get their games in sync quickly.
Easier said than done. It's a yearly GLI dilemma.
"Everyone is just about on an equal footing in that we've all been on break and we'll be dealing with being sluggish, a little rusty and trying to shake the cobwebs out early,'' Krug said. "We need to have a good first period and set ourselves up for success.
The Spartans returned to East Lansing on Monday and practiced Monday night. On Tuesday, the team practiced in the morning, worked on skills and just had relaxed, fun second session in the afternoon. MSU was scheduled to practice again at Munn on Wednesday morning before heading to Detroit.
"What helps you most is limiting mistakes. That's a big key for the first period,'' said Krug, 3-1 overall in the GLI. "It takes a few shifts, probably 10 minutes into the first period (to feel comfortable).
"It's a mental thing. It's going to be who's tougher mentally. I think we're in better shape, but it comes down to feeling sluggish and thinking that your hands aren't there and then overcoming that mentally. The team that does will have success.''
Michigan State and Michigan Tech have a few things in common this season. Both teams have new coaches, both are playing an uptempo, puck pursuit game, and the teams are among the major surprises of the first half.
Tom Anastos took over at MSU last spring and a month or so later, Mel Pearson, an assistant at U-M for the last 23 seasons, left Ann Arbor to assume the coaching reigns at his alma mater.
No many college hockey followers would have anticipated that the Huskies would get off to a 6-2-1--start and be ranked as high as 15th in the nation and would sweep Wisconsin at home, win and tie vs. Denver at home and split with Minnesota on the road.
It's the same for the Spartans, who are 8-2-2 since Oct. 21, and have swept at Western Michigan, split at Northern Michigan and won and tied against then-No. 2 Minnesota at Munn Arena.
"I think their team is similar to ours,'' Anastos said of the Huskies. "When they have a chance to go on the attack, they do. Their goaltending is good, they compete hard defensively and they're doing everything in their means to turn it up offensively.
"All four teams are trying to play the same way, so it looks like it'll be an entertaining tournament.''
The Spartans are coming off a 4-3 loss and 3-3 tie (and CCHA shootout win) against Michigan. The Huskies lost a single game at Northern Michigan, 4-1.
"I see our game with Michigan Tech as a toss-up. What's going to be interesting is to see how each teams deals with the break,'' Anastos said. "Everyone is going to feel bad, but who's more mentally tough? Who's going to cave to `I don't feel good ... my legs are heavy?' You have to say `I'm going to fight through this.'''
Anastos admitted his team's first two practices were a bit ragged.
"We're excited to be back and the spirit of the players is good. But we've looked a little sloppy,'' he said. "With the guys, I used an analogy of a dress shoe vs. a sneaker. Right now, we're definitely a sneaker. We could use some polishing.''
KRUG MEMORIES: One of Krug's favorite players in past GLI's was Michigan Tech forward Chris Conner, who's also from Livonia and was coached in youth hockey by Krug's dad, Kyle. He played for the Huskies from 2002-2006.
"He was 5-foot-6 or 5-7 and for me he was a guy who gave me hope,'' said Krug, who's 5-foot-9 , 180 pounds and seven years younger than Conner.
"He was knocking 6-foot-2 guys on their butts. He played on my dad's team with my brother (Adam) and (Vancouver Canucks forward) Ryan Kesler. It's always pretty cool to play Michigan Tech.''
Despite his size, Conner was a gifted scorer, who had 69 goals, including 25 as sophomore, in four seasons at Michigan Tech. He's played in 145 games in the NHL for Dallas (71), Pittsburgh (68) and is now in the Red Wings organization. He was called up to the Red Wings earlier this month and had a goal and three points in six games before suffering a hand injury.
In the NHL, Conner, now 28, has 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points.
COACH LOOKS BACK: Growing up in Dearborn, Tom Anastos attended GLI's at Olympia Stadium in the 1970s and then at Joe Louis Arena. Back then, Michigan Tech, which started the tournament in 1965, dominated the early years. The Huskies won nine titles in the first 16 years of the event and were in the finals 18 times from 1965-1984.
Anastos and his powerful Spartans teams helped halt Tech's domination.
After MSU lost to Tech and tied Michigan in Anastos' first GLI in 1981, in which Notre Dame won the title, the Spartans went 6-0 and won three straight championships - 1982-84.
The Huskies haven't won since 1980. Over the last 30 years, Tech has played in the finals six times and only twice since 1984.
"It was a fun atmosphere to play in. Back then, college hockey at Joe was just starting to evolve,'' Anastos said. "Our team was a big part of it because we'd have 10, 12 or 14 thousand MSU fans down there.
"I remember playing in the championship game (in 1984) against Tech and you couldn't see an aisle way in the stands because fans were all over. It was incredible. There had to be 22-23,000 people in the building.''
MSU beat Michigan Tech, 7-0.
"That was one of my best college thrills, to be able to play in that game, and experience the energy in the building,'' Anastos said.
The MSU coach even went on a recruiting visit to Michigan Tech in the winter of 1981. Despite Tech being a power in the West, Anastos decided to stay closer to home and committed to the Spartans.
As a MSU player, Anastos had a 12-5 record against Michigan Tech - 3-1 in the GLI, 3-0 in CCHA playoffs and 1-3 in Houghton. As a junior, Anastos and the Spartans were 5-2 vs. the Huskies, but as a senior, MSU was just 1-0, since Michigan Tech had moved back to the WCHA after three seasons in the CCHA.
THE RIVALRY: Michigan Tech holds a narrow 78-75-1 edge over MSU in a series which started with a 5-0 Huskies won on Feb. 15, 1928, and then resumed in January, 1950.
However, the Spartans are 13-1 against Tech since 1992 and hold a 21-3 edge since 1984.
The last 20 meetings have come in the GLI. The last time the teams played a non-GLI game was a non-conference contest on Nov. 26, 1986, a 6-0 win for the Spartans at Munn Arena. MSU's last two-game series against Tech was in the first round of the CCHA playoffs on March 2-3, 1984. The Spartans won 5-3, 3-1.
Michigan Tech won the last two games the teams played in Houghton - 6-4 and 3-1 in a CCHA series on Feb. 3-4, 1984.
LOCAL CONNECTION: Michigan Tech's roster includes two mid-Michigan players - brothers Jacob and David Johnstone of Grand Ledge. Jacob, 21, a sophomore forward, has five goals and seven points in 19 games, while David, 20, a freshman forward, has three goals and 11 points in 17 games.
GLI QUICK FACTS: In the 46-year history of the GLI, Michigan and MSU have won the most titles with 14 and 12, respectively. Tech is third with nine. The Spartans won four in a row from 1982-85 and 1997-2000. The Wolverines won nine in a row from 1988-96, but then went nine consecutive seasons without winning.
MSU has made 37 GLI appearances and has been a regular since 1978. U-M has been in every tourney since 1974.
In the last 10 years, MSU and U-M have won three championships apiece, while the four other winners were North Dakota (2001), Boston University (2002), Boston College (2003) and Colorado College (2005).
Other than MSU, U-M and MTU, the school with the most GLI titles is North Dakota - two (1967, 2001) in three appearances. Boston College and Harvard have played in the GLI five times and each has won one championship.
MSU has had 12 players win Most Valuable Player honors - five forwards, four goaltenders and three defensemen. The last Spartan MVP was Brett Perlini, now a senior, in 2009.