Huskies Have Momentum After Winning First GLI in 32 Years
by Sam Obermyer/CHN Reporter
Michigan Tech was almost an afterthought coming into this year's Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
There was a top-10 ranked Western Michigan team playing in the tournament for the first time since 1986, plus the two big traditional powers in the state, Michigan and Michigan State, looking to use the tournament as a spring board to a successful second half, like the Wolverines did last year.
But after all the games were played, the Huskies and their goalie were the only ones anyone was talking about.
Michigan Tech shut out Western Michigan 4-0 in the championship game on Sunday to claim their 10th GLI title, but the first since 1980.
"It was our time," said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson, who played on that last championship team. "I could not be prouder of this team. I'm just so happy for Michigan Tech, all the alumni and fans who have come down to this tournament the last 30 years."
On Saturday, Michigan Tech beat Michigan 4-0.
Huskies freshman goalie Pheonix Copley was the named the Tournament MVP after becoming the second goaltender to get a shutout in both games of the GLI. Copley made 70 save on the weekend and is the first Michigan Tech goaltender to record back-to-back shutouts since the 1950's.
Prior to the GLI, Copley had only started six games with senior Kevin Genoe getting most of the action.
Pearson said he was not sure what made him decide to give Copley the start in goal but said Copley had been playing well in practice.
"He is a confident kid, very athletic," Pearson said. "He can make the big save, he can make a save that turns a game around and he made a couple tonight."
Copley won the starting job out of camp, but was just 1-6 on the season entering the GLI.
"Maybe we expected too much of him too soon," Pearson said.
Copley credited his defensemen in front of him and said he felt comfortable in front of the large crowds of 16,439 on Saturday and 14,719 on Sunday.
"That's fun, that's what you play for, it just pumps you up," Copley said.
Pearson then joked with his goaltender asking if there are even 16,000 people in Copley's hometown of North Pole, Alaska. Copley laughed and said there is not even half that number. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau the population of North Pole is 2,154.)
Up front, the Huskies are led by a group of young forwards — freshmen Jujhar Khaira and Alex Petan along with sophomore David Johnstone all lead the team with 15 points.
Petan and Khaira, who combined for three of the goals vs. Michigan, where both named to the all-tournament team.
"Both guys have bright futures in college hockey, I just hope they stay all four years," Pearson said. "Jujhar Khaira is big, strong and does a great job behind the net. He is good in front of the net, can shoot the puck."
Petan was sick with the flu and had to go to the hospital before the first game of the tournament.
"Sometimes you have your best games when you are not feeling well," Pearson said. "He is very skilled and a very important part of our team."
Sophomore Blake Pietila leads the team with 10 goals but did not play in the GLI because he is playing for the United States in the World Junior Championship.
"I told him maybe he should stay over there," joked Pearson.
Pearson was a player on the 1980 Michigan Tech team but said he is enjoying this championship more.
"As a player you just come to the rink and play," Pearson said. "As a coach you are doing it for a lot more than yourself or your team. You are doing it for so many other people who put so much into the program in all those 30 years, all those coaches and players who have come before us. It's just a real special feeling."
Michigan Tech, which has appeared in all 48 GLIs, had not reached the championship game since 2007.
"It's tough to win this, and I told our team that. Someone can't give it to you, you can't buy it, you have to earn it. I thought our guys did a great job and earned it," Pearson said.
Coming into the tournament Michigan Tech had only won four games all season and was tied for 10th place in the WCHA.
The Huskies are now hoping that the GLI title is a sign of things to come in the second half of the season and while Pearson cautioned that one weekend does not make a season he did add, "This could be a huge lift and a huge boost to our team going forward."
Pearson said the team still has a lot of upside, and pointed, in particular, to a trio of juniors — Ryan Furne, Milos Gordic and Jacob Johnston. The trio combined for 31 goals as freshmen and 29 as sophomores, but currently has just three this season. If they get hot, and Copley settles in, it could be a big second half.