By Alyssa Girardi -
DETROIT — Set against a backdrop of the Detroit skyline while donning throwback script jerseys, the MSU hockey team took the ice across the Comerica Park baseball diamond for the 49th annual Great Lakes Invitational on Friday afternoon.
Though this season’s GLI had all the makings of a career highlight for veteran Spartans, a shootout loss to Michigan Tech after making up a one-goal deficit snapped MSU’s hopes at its first GLI title since 2009.
“Obviously, we wanted to be playing (Saturday) for the championship, so that would’ve been great to win it especially in that fashion, coming from behind,” captain Greg Wolfe (Canton) said. “But we didn’t give up. We took the lead, we had opportunities, it just wasn’t enough tonight.”
Michigan Tech and MSU met twice earlier in this season, and the Huskies (6-9-6, 4-4-4 WCHA) walked away from the Nov. 8-9 series with two wins under their belt.
Friday’s game marked the second consecutive season MSU lost by shootout in the GLI semifinal.
Last year, the Spartans came back from a 1-0 deficit to Western Michigan to tie the game with only 16 seconds remaining, but fell in the shootout after Western Michigan’s Mike Leone scored the only shootout goal.
“The way the guys keep fighting, the discipline: I am disappointed for them, because it’s two years in a row,” MSU head coach Tom Anastos said. “You target this tournament, and as we’re trying to rebuild our team and our program, this is an opportunity to compete and learn to compete for a championship in these two days. We didn’t get over that hump, and we had the expectation of doing that.”
After more than a period and a half of scoreless hockey, Michigan Tech Jacob Johnstone (Grand Ledge) took the lead for the Huskies. Blake Hietala (Houghton) picked up a rebound in the right circle and spun while throwing the puck toward the slot. It found its way through traffic onto the stick of Johnstone, who one-timed the puck into the empty net for the goal.
Michigan Tech controlled the middle period, outshooting MSU 20-5 while also being awarded three power plays.
The Spartans started the third period with time remaining on the power play after Mike Neville was called for interference late in the second. Only 52 seconds into the final period, MSU’s Matt Berry (Canton) tied the game up after retrieving Jake Chelios’ rebound and netting it from along the goal line.
It marked Berry’s first goal this season in his fourth game back after he suffered a lower-body injury in the summer and was forced to miss the beginning of the season.
“I knew that as soon as that puck came to my stick that I had to put it in the middle of the net,” Berry said. “It was kind of a bad angle but I had pretty much most of the net, so I just lifted it up and hammered it”
About three minutes later, Ryan Keller redirected a shot by John Draeger from the right point to give the Spartans their first lead in almost four games.
Yet the lead was short-lived, as Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan tied the game back up at 8:13. Neville came out of a scrum behind Jake Hildebrand’s net with the puck, and poked it out front to Petan for the easy goal.
The game remained tied, and the teams were scoreless through one five-minute overtime period. After two scoreless shootout rounds, MSU’s Villiam Haag scored with a backhander, but Michigan Tech’s Tanner Kero (Hancock) responded with a goal in the lower right corner.
Five more shooters were unsuccessful, until Michigan Tech’s Ryan Furne ended the game when he found a gap between Hildebrand’s skate and the post to seal the win.
Despite the shootout loss, Hildebrand turned away 41 shots and made big saves at big times, as Anastos put it.
“It’s absolutely frustrating,” Draeger said. “It’s heartbreaking, and especially with Hildy playing great, that we can’t give him that win. He stopped two breakaways in the third there. I think he played great, so it’s obviously heartbreaking.”
The Spartans will take on the losing team of the Michigan vs. Western Michigan game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Comerica Park, and the winner will face Michigan Tech in the championship game at 7 p.m.