By Stefan Kubus –
DETROIT - The last time the Michigan Tech Huskies captured a GLI championship, Mel Pearson was a player on the team.
But Sunday night, Pearson guided the Huskies to the Great Lakes Invitational championship – their first since 1980 – as head coach, with a 4-0 win over the No. 7 Western Michigan Broncos thanks to an outstanding, 70-save shutout tournament from freshman netminder Pheonix Copley.
“It was our time,” Pearson said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve won this tournament and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
As a player, not only was Pearson on the last Huskies squad to win the GLI, but he also won it in four straight years, including scoring the game-winner to clinch the 1979 championship over Michigan.
“I think I’m enjoying it more as a head coach,” Pearson said. “As a player, you just play. You come to the rink, you don’t put a lot into it. But as a coach, you’re doing it for a lot more than just yourself or your team. You’re doing it for so many other people that put so much into the program and all those 30 years and all those coaches and players that have come before. It’s just a real special feeling… It’s tough to win this. I told our team that tonight. Someone can’t give it to you, you can’t buy it. You have to earn it and I thought our guys did a great job of earning it tonight.”
Saturday night against Michigan, Copley made 38 saves to shutout Michigan – one of the most successful programs in all of college hockey history – also a 4-0 game. Sunday night, against the Broncos, Copley made 32 saves en route to his second-straight shutout.
“It felt good, especially something like that for the seniors and the coaching staff,” Copley said of the win. “Obviously the guys in front of me played really well covering the outside and made my job a lot easier.”
In the first, Michigan Tech struck first on a goal by sophomore Grand Ledge native David Johnstone.
Or so they thought.
Johnstone gobbled up a rebound after a puck was thrown on net, banked it off Broncos goalie Frank Slubowski’s pad and in the net. But after video review, it was ruled that a Huskies player crashing the net made contact with Slubowski.
Huskies junior forward Dennis Rix later made up for that, as he threw a puck on net from the side boards that seemed to handcuff Slubowski and find its way into the back of the cage. Rix’s goal stood as the game-winner.
After 40 minutes, Rix’s goal remained as the only one on the scoreboard.
In the third, the Huskies added an insurance marker on a great, as sophomore Blake Hietala (Houghton) finished off a Aaron Pietila (Brighton) and Daniel Holmberg three-way passing play to make it 2-0 in favor of the Huskies.
With just minutes left, down a pair of goals and no timeout remaining, wily Broncos head coach Andy Murray pulled Slubowski in favor of freshman goalie Lukas Hafner. But it wasn’t because Slubowski was hurt or at fault.
“I was trying to buy some time,” Murray said. “I told Lukas just before, ‘Take everything off’ because if I needed to do it, he had to be real slow taking his stuff off. But he was too quick; we didn’t get as much of a rest as we wanted. It was just a way to buy some time. Lukas knew at a certain point we were going to pull him out of the net there.’”
With Hafner pulled seconds after the change, Hancock native Tanner Kero buried an empty netter that sealed the Broncos’ fate and the Huskies’ triumph.
Pietila went on to add fourth goal with Hafner in the net to finish things off at 4-0.
Murray had nothing but class after the game, commending the Huskies on their long-awaited tournament win.
“I congratulate Michigan Tech on winning the GLI tournament,” Murray said. “What a great week for their program here tonight. They’ve got their program turned up there and I think they’re going to do some great things. They had a great weekend, they beat a good Michigan team yesterday, they beat us today and didn’t give up a goal in either game.”
“I just couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Pearson said. “I’m so happy for Michigan Tech, the university, all the alumni and fans that have come down to this tournament the last 30 years and supported this team through a lot.”