This weekend, the Spartan hockey team will compete in the 49th annual Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit. This year's tournament comes with a twist, as the games will take place outside at Comerica Park. The GLI is a part of the Winter Festival going on in accordance with the NHL's Winter Classic. The GLI field features host Michigan Tech, GLI regulars Michigan and Michigan State, and guest Western Michigan. This is the 40th GLI appearance for the Spartans, winning the tournament on 12 occasions, with the last title coming in 2009.
The Spartans haven't played since December 14, a 2-0 loss at the hands of Ferris State. The Spartans finished the first half of the season with a 5-9-1 record, including an 0-4 record against teams in the GLI. The Spartans were swept by Michigan Tech in Houghton and swept by Western Michigan in a home and home series. Since that Western Michigan series, the Spartans have played their best hockey, finding two top lines that seem to have chemistry and outstanding play from Jake Hildebrand. The two games played this weekend will be the last non-conference contests of the season and a good chance for the Spartans to gain momentum going into B1G play.
3:30 Michigan State vs. Michigan Tech (Fox Sports Detroit)
7:00 Michigan vs. Western Michigan (Fox Sports Detroit Plus)
3:30 Consolation Game (Fox Sports Detroit)
7:00 Championship Game (Fox Sports Detroit)
Michigan Tech Huskies (6-9-5, 4-4-4 in WCHA)
The Spartans and Huskies open up the GLI at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. The Huskies swept the Spartans in November 3-0, 3-2 (OT). The Huskies have had an inconsistent season since that series, going 3-3-4, only sweeping Alaska in the process. Alex Petan and Tanner Kero scored each night against the Spartans and have continued to produce for the Huskies, as they are the leading scorers. Like the Spartans, the Huskies have struggled to score often as they average only 2.15 goals per game, 52nd in the nation. The Huskies lead the nation in penalty minutes per game and have a 84.7% penalty kill.
Western Michigan Broncos (7-8-3, 3-5 NCHC)
The Broncos limp into the GLI, losers of three out their last four, surrendering 3.25 goals per game in that stretch. The Broncos continue to be lead by Shane Berschbach and Justin Kovacs who both average more than a point per game. The Broncos have continued to struggle with discipline, taking 121 penalties, 4th most in the nation. This could be problematic for the Broncos this weekend, as their opponent Friday (Michigan) currently is operating a 24.07% power play.
#3 Michigan Wolverines (10-2-2, 2-0 B1G)
The Wolverines come into the GLI as the odds on favorite to win and it's not even close. The Wolverines lead GLI competitors in goals per game, team defense and power play percentage. Zach Nagelvoort as a true freshman has the best goals against average in the nation, surrendering only 1.67 goals per start. The Wolverines have always been a strong defensive team and consistently turn unlikely goalies into stars (see Shawn Hunwick). The Wolverines will be missing two key players, Andrew Copp and JT Compher. Copp will be representing the United States at the World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden. Compher would likely would be in Sweden as well if it wasn't for an injury sustained in training for the tournament.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they will not be without the services of Tyler Motte. The freshman forward was the last player cut from Team USA and is expected to be available for this weekend, after flying home from Sweden. The Wolverines have a balanced attack, leading scorer Copp has only 14 points, and eight Wolverines have eight points or more.
Keys to Spartans Success
- Power Play- The Huskies and Broncos are two of the most penalized teams in the country. Success on the power play will be crucial for the Spartans this weekend. Outside of the freshman line of Haag-Ebling-MacEachern, there has been no consistent success for the Spartan power play. Tom Anastos has played with 4 forwards, different line combinations and given lots of opportunities but no one has taken the reins for Michigan State. The power play improving in B1G play may be the biggest need for the Spartans.
- Quick Start- Playing an outdoor game at a baseball stadium is going to be a spectacle, including for the players in the game. The Spartans and Wolverines are the only two teams in the GLI with program experience in outdoor games. Taking advantage of the excitement of playing in an outdoor game and jumping out to a quick lead could be huge for the Spartans. Letting Jake Hildebrand play goal with a lead has to be scary for opponents with how well Hildebrand has been playing.
- Jake Hildebrand- Hildebrand is going to continue to be the most important Spartan on the ice, until his teammates can show an ability to consistently produce offense. Hildebrand looks like he has recovered from an early sophomore slump, playing fantastic against Minnesota and Ferris State. If the Spartans win their 13th GLI title it is more than likely Hildebrand is holding the MVP trophy on the ice at Comerica Park.