By Stefan Kubus –
DETROIT – For the first time since 1979-80, the Michigan Tech Huskies will have the opportunity to capture back-to-back Great Lakes Invitational Championships, and their 11th overall.
In his last eight periods of Great Lakes Invitational hockey, Michigan Tech goaltender Pheonix Copley hadn’t allowed a goal. And despite allowing two against Michigan State in Friday’s GLI opener, Copley backstopped the Huskies to a 3-2 shootout victory. Senior forward Ryan Furne scored the shootout winner in the fifth round, while sophomore Alex Petan and senior Grand Ledge native Jacob Johnstone scored in regulation for the Huskies.
Head coach Mel Pearson said the potential of back-to-back GLI victories would be a huge accomplishment for the program after a difficult stretch of struggling years.
“It’d be huge, not only for ourselves, but just all the people who have supported this program for so long,” Pearson said. “We’ve got a great alumni base, great fan base here in all of Michigan and they support us. I’ve been to this tournament 33 years and I always notice the Tech fans. I think it’d be huge for them and huge for everybody back in the Copper Country who have really supported over the lame years.”
The Huskies and Spartans began the game in front of a Detroit sunset and finished it under the bright Comerica Park lights.
Petan said the entire experience of playing in such an atmosphere was bone-chilling.
“As soon as we hit that ice for warm-ups, it was definitely the experience of a lifetime. Obviously, we knew the ice conditions weren’t that great, but we adapted well and I thought everyone had a great game. It was super exciting for me.”
Despite not scoring a power play goal in the game, the Huskies built a wave of momentum from multiple opportunities and found a way to beat MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand at even strength at 13:10 of the second frame.
Senior forward Jacob Johnstone took a nifty spin-o-rama pass from Houghton native Blake Hietala to make it 1-0. For the Grand Ledge native Johnstone, it was his first goal and point of the year.
The Huskies controlled the play in the first period overall, but stepped it up a notch in the second stanza, outshooting the Spartans 20-5 in the second period alone and 27-10 through 40 minutes.
“We really took control of the game in the second period,” Pearson said. “Even though we were only up 1-0, I thought we should’ve been up more.”
With 1:42 of power-play time to begin the third period on fresh ice, the Spartans converted, as junior Canton native Matt Berry evened things up at 1-1, just 52 seconds into the period.
Minutes later, John Draeger’s point shot found its way past Copley for a 2-1 lead. Sophomore forward and Farmington Hills native Ryan Keller got credit for tipping the goal in.
With 11:47 to play in the third period, sophomore Alex Petan tied it right back up for the Huskies, burying a rebound in front of Hildebrand in the slot.
With no conclusion after 65 minutes, the teams headed to a shootout.
In the shootout, it took five rounds, but Furne capped it off with a slick, patient goal for the win to send his Huskies back to the GLI championship game on Saturday.
“I was really proud of our team tonight,” Pearson said. “I thought right from the get-go, we played well, considering the ice conditions. Both teams obviously had to play on them, but I thought we did a lot of good things.”