Neil’s Notebook: New Year, New Era for the GLI
Neil Koepke previews the 53rd annual Great Lakes Invitational.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Gatt, a senior, is eager to end his Michigan State career with a coveted GLI championship. Lewandowski, a freshman, is hoping to help the Spartans start a trend by winning the first of several GLI titles during his stay.
Gatt, Lewandowski and their MSU teammates, refreshed from an eight-day holiday break, are determined to add to their solid start this season by beginning 2018 as champions of the GLI - the first at the new Little Caesars Arena.
“When I was leaving home to come back, my dad said ‘let’s bring home a GLI championship’ cause we (the seniors) played in the championship game once (in 2014) and lost, so winning would be awesome,’’ said Gatt, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman from South Lyon. “We want to start winning championships here at Michigan State, and for the senior class to start that tradition and trend for the program with the GLI, that would be awesome.’’
MSU hasn’t won the GLI since 2009 – a seven-year drought.
Gatt has played in the last three tournaments - advancing to the finals in his freshman year in 2014 –losing to Michigan - and losing two games in each of the last two seasons.
Lewandowski, who has 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points and shares the MSU scoring lead with Taro Hirose (6-15), is making his GLI debut.
“Playing in my first GLI will be fun, really cool. I used to watch the GLI at Joe Louis Arena when I was young, so it’s special,’’ said Lewandowski, a 5-foot-9, 176-pound right wing from Clarkson. “It would be huge to come back from the break and make a statement. That would be huge for us to jump back in and win two games.’’
In the 53rd annual GLI, a tournament that seemingly has no clear favorite, Michigan State (8-9-1 overall, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) opens against Michigan Tech (9-7-5, 7-6-5 WCHA) at 2:30 p.m. Monday at Little Caesar’s Arena. In the second game Monday, Michigan (7-7-2, 3-5-2-1) plays Bowling Green (8-6-6, 7-2-5 WCHA) at 6 p.m. The third-place game is at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, while the puck drops for the championship game at 6 p.m. Tuesday’s games will be televised by Fox Sports Detroit.
It’s a new era in Spartan hockey with Danton Cole taking over as coach this season, and it’s a new era for the GLI with the holiday festival moving from Joe Louis Arena, where it’s been held since 1979, except for 2013 when it was at Comerica Park, to Little Caesars Arena, which opened in late summer.
“We want to get a little domino effect going,’’ Gatt said. “Once that first championship goes down, hopefully, there will be a lot more in the years to come.
“I can’t wait. I went to a Red Wings game and saw what it’s like to watch as a spectator. That was unbelievable and I’m really excited about experiencing the atmosphere – to see the play on the big screen. With this my last go-round, I’m going to cherish everything and take in the moment.
“There’s no better way to play your last GLI at brand new Little Caesar’s Arena.’’
When Lewandowski committed to play at MSU in 2014, he had no idea that his first GLI would be at LCA.
“I wasn’t sure whether this year would be the last one at Joe Louis or the first one at the new arena,’’ he said. “I probably saw four or five GLIs but only remember two. I remember watching Western Michigan win one and Michigan win a while back.
“I never really thought about (playing in the GLI) when I was younger, but now it’s like a dream come true. I have a lot of family and friends coming down so it’ll be really sweet.’’
It’ll be especially sweet if the Spartans beat Michigan Tech and then follow it up with a victory over Michigan or Bowling Green in the title game.
“Everyone is excited about it. We’re playing in the first college game in Little Caesars Arena,’’ said Spartans coach Danton Cole. “Hopefully, we can break that place in right.’’
Cole said it’s important for Michigan State to regain its presence in Detroit by winning GLI titles and annual games against Michigan at LCA.
“There are certain things that we’re trying to establish here. I think there’s a good vibe on the recruiting trail, and especially in the Detroit area,’’ he said. “Coach (Ron) Mason used to talk about that in terms of getting several good players.
“You can’t expect to get every good kid out of every recruiting class, but you want to start getting two or three of those guys in the Michigan area.
“Teams are paying attention to us, players are paying attention to us. We want to keep that going.’’
Cole played in four GLIs from 1985-88, compiling a 5-3 record and winning the tournament as a freshman in 1985 with victories over Michigan Tech and Rensselaer. The Spartans finished runner-up in 1987, beating Michigan Tech in the semifinals and losing to Wisconsin in the title game.
“The crowds down at the Joe Louis Arena were the biggest things I remember,’’ he said. “I think the building held 20,000 and we had 21,00 in there.
“You only get a couple times a year when you can win a championship. One is at the end of the year and you’re one of 60 teams. In a tournament like the GLI, you’re one of four teams, in an NHL arena with a great environment.’’
The Spartans returned from their holiday break on Wednesday and practiced Thursday-Saturday to get ready for the GLI and the second half of the season.
“It’s a neat time of the year. It’s almost dead set in the middle of the season and it’s a tournament,’’ Cole said. “You have to perform the first night or you’re not playing for a championship the second night. It’s a lot different than a series.’’
Cole said his team returned to campus in good shape after more than a week off. MSU hasn’t played since facing the U.S. Under-18 team in Plymouth – a 3-0 exhibition victory – on Dec. 16.
“I think the guys did a good job over the break. We sent them home with some homework, and we wanted them to take some days off, but we also wanted them to get in a gym and do some sprint work,’’ Cole said.
“They were sharp on Thursday and good again on Friday. The thing I liked is that they’re refreshed. They’re excited to get back. They all said that after 3-4 days, they were chomping at the bit to get back here. That’s good. You want guys to want to be at the rink.’’
WIDE OPEN FIELD: The four teams in the GLI seem to be evenly matched with none of the teams having a super season or struggling. Michigan Tech (9-7-5) and Bowling Green (8-6-6) have the best records with Michigan at .500 (7-7-2) and MSU (8-9-1) one game below .500.
The Spartans have split series against BGSU and U-M, while the Falcons are 1-0-1 vs. Michigan Tech. In addition, the Wolverines are missing three key players who are playing for the U.S. Junior Team in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
“I don’t know how you come up with a favorite,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “We’ve played Bowling Green and Michigan and split with them. We haven’t played Tech but they look like a good team that does some things well.
“I’d say it’s wide open and I think that’s good. Everybody going in feels like they have a chance. But you have to perform.’’
GLI HISTORY: The tournament, which started in 1965 at Olympia Stadium, was conceived by legendary Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes, Olympia Stadium general manager Lincoln Cavalieri and Red Wings scout Jack Paterson. They wanted to introduce young athletes in the Detroit area to college hockey.
Michigan Tech, the official tournament host, has played in all 52 GLIs, with Michigan appearing in 49 and MSU in 43. The Wolverines became a regular participant in 1974 while the Spartans started their streak of 38 straight appearances in 1979, Ron Mason’s first season as coach and the first year for the tournament at Joe Louis Arena.
MSU’s GLI record is 48-35-3.
Michigan has won the most titles 17, MSU is second with 12 and Michigan Tech follows with 10. The at-large team with the most championships is Western Michigan with three. The Broncos won last season, in 2013 and in 1986.
Bowling Green has played in two GLIs, going 0-4. The Falcons’ first visit was at Olympia in 1976. They lost to Michigan Tech, 7-6 in overtime, and to Brown, 3-2 in overtime. At the time, BGSU was coached by Ron Mason.
MSU’s last championship in 2009 was set up by high-scoring victories over Michigan Tech (10-1) and Rensselaer (6-1). Forward Brett Perlini, who had three goals and two assists for five points for the tourney, was named GLI most valuable player. The Spartans’ top defensive pairing that season featured Torey Krug and Jeff Petry, now standouts in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
Michigan State put together a pair of four-year championship runs – from 1982-85 and 1997-2000. Michigan Tech won five titles in a row from 1976-1980 and four of those championship wins came against Michigan.
But the Wolverines hold the record for most titles won in a row. U-M won nine championships from 1988-1996, but then went nine consecutive seasons without winning the GLI.
Despite Michigan Tech’s resurgence over the last six seasons, the Huskies have won only one GLI championship – in 2012 with shutout victories over Michigan and Western Michigan. Before that season, MTU went 32 consecutive years without a title, since winning it in 1979.
THE MSU-TECH RIVALRY: Michigan Tech holds an 83-76-4 edge in the series, but MSU is 23-6-1 vs. the Huskies in the GLI. Over the last four seasons, MTU is 5-1-2 against the Spartans. Six of the last seven games have gone to overtime, with Tech winning three, MSU one and two ending in ties.
Last season, the teams split a non-conference series at Munn Arena, with MSU winning 3-2 in overtime on Mason Appleton’s goal and the Huskies winning the second game of the series, 5-1.
Michigan Tech dominated the overall series in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, but the Spartans held the upper hand after Ron Mason took over as coach. From late 1982 to early 2013, Michigan State compiled a 27-5 record vs. the Huskies.
SCOUTING THE HUSKIES: Michigan Tech started the season 4-1-2, including wins over Union and Minnesota-Duluth to capture the IceBreaker Cup. The Huskies then went 0-4-1 before going on a 5-2-3 run to enter the holiday break. In its last series, Tech defeated Lake Superior State 3-0 and tied the Lakers 3-3 on Dec. 15-16, in Houghton.
Michigan Tech has a new coach in former Tech assistant Joe Shawhan, a LSSU graduate who also served as an assistant with the Lakers and Northern Michigan. Shawhan took over for Mel Pearson, who was named coach at Michigan, replacing the retired Red Berenson last April.
Huskies to watch include forwards Jake Jackson (8-8-16), Brent Baltus (7-8-15), Jake Lucchini (5-9-14), Alex Smith (4-10-14) and Joel L’Esperance (6-3-9) and defensemen Mitch Reinke (2-13-15), Mark Auk (3-9-12) and Dane Birks (4-7-11).
Tech lost last year’s standout freshman goalie Angus Redmond (1.85 goals against average, .917 saves percentage) to a free agent signing by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. Junior Patrick Munson, a transfer from Denver who previously played at Vermont, has taken over as the No. 1 goaltender. He has a 7-5-3 record, a 2.82 GAA and a .904 saves percentage.
“Like most of our (recent) games against Michigan Tech, it’ll probably be a one-goal or tie game in the third period,’’ MSU senior defenseman Carson Gatt said. “Last year we had one game go into overtime, the year before we had three go into overtime against them.
“They’re a very structured team and they play hard. They’re always giving us problems. They play hard in the defensive zone and try to trap you in the corners and outwork you.
“I’m anticipating a one-goal game because that’s what it usually is against these guys.’’
SCOUTING THE WOLVERINES: Michigan has been idle since losing 5-0 to MSU at Munn Arena on Dec. 8, one night after blanking the Spartans, 4-0, at Yost Arena. The Wolverines are 2-5-2 in their last nine games.
U-M is missing three of its best players – forwards Josh Norris (4-5-9) and Joe Lockwood (4-7-11) and defenseman Quinn Hughes (1-9-10) - who are members of the U.S. Junior National Team playing in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
But Michigan still has its most productive forward line in junior Cooper Marody, senior Tony Calderone and senior Dexter Dancs. Marody is the team’s top scorer with four goals and 20 assists for 24 points, followed by Calderone (13-5-18) and Dancs (5-8-13).
SCOUTING THE FALCONS: Bowling Green will not be in a good mood when it takes the ice against Michigan on Monday. The Falcons were dominated by Western Michigan, 5-2, in a non-league game on Thursday in Bowling Green. The Broncos built a 4-0 lead before the game was 15 minutes old.
BGSU has three players with 15 points or more. Sophomore defenseman Alec Rauhauser leads the team in scoring with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points. Junior forward Stephen Bayliss (7-8-15) and freshman forward Cameron Wright (5-10-15) are tied for second. The Falcons have split the goaltending duties with sophomore Ryan Bednard starting 10 games and Eric Dop starting nine. Bednard is 4-2-4 with a 1.92 GAA and a .926 saves percentage. Dop is 4-3-1 with a 2.71 GAA and a .994 saves percentage.
Bednard started Thursday’s game vs. WMU and gave up four goals before being replaced by Dop, who allowed one goal in 46 minutes of work.
BGSU is 4-3-3 in its last 10 games. The Falcons are tied for second place in the WCHA with a 7-2-5-2 record and 28 points, five behind first-place Minnesota State. Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech also have 28 points, but the Huskies have played four more games. The Wildcats, like BGSU, have played 14.
BGSU opened the season with a non-conference split against Michigan State – winning 4-1 at home and losing 3-2 at Munn Arena.
IN THE BIG TEN: While MSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota return to action this weekend or early next week, Wisconsin, Penn State and Notre Dame are idle.
No. 10 Minnesota (11-9-1, 4-7-1-1 Big Ten) opened a non-conference series with a 3-0 victory Friday over Army in Minneapolis. The Gophers, who outshot the Black Knights, 33-13, only led 1-0 until 16:41 of the third period when they went up 2-0 on a goal by Jack Sadek. With 42 seconds left, Leon Bristedt hit an empty net for a three-goal victory and shutout for goalie Eric Schierhorn. The teams meet against Saturday.
No. 9 Ohio State (11-4-4, 5-4-1-0) edged Niagara 3-2, in a non-league series opener on Friday in Columbus. Five minutes after Niagara tied it, 2-2, late in the third period, the Buckeyes’ Tanner Laczynski won it with a goal with 6.3 seconds left. OSU and the Purple Eagles close out the series on Saturday.