Kovacs' OT Goal Gives Western Michigan GLI Championship
CHN Staff Report
Justin Pitt goes end to end to defeat Michigan in overtime Friday.
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Justin Kovacs' goal 2:01 into overtime was the game's only score, and gave Western Michigan the second Great Lakes Invitational championship in the program's history.
The tournament was played outdoors for the first time, drawing an announced crowd of just over 26,000 at Comerica Park in Detroit, the usual home of baseball's Detroit Tigers.
“My only fear is that the last the Broncos won was 1986 and we didn’t get invited back again until last year," Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said. "I would hope we would get to return a little sooner. It’s such a great tournament and venue.”
The winning goal was set up when Kenney Morrison fired a shot off the boards and Shane Berschbach put the rebound on net. Kovacs then skated in and punched the rebound into the net for his team-best ninth goal of the season.
“I am not taking any credit for this, but we talked a lot about shooting in to the end boards then our guy would be on the other side of them to get the puck," Murray said. "It was something we had talked about, besides just standing in front or having a shot blocked.”
Said Kovacs, "Their team is really good at blocking shots so we started throwing it off the end board. The bounced off really nicely and I popped it in. I didn’t even see it go in. It’s nice getting it for the tournament winner. I just saw one of our players celebrating and then I knew it went in.”
Lukas Hafner made 33 saves and was named tournament MVP.
“I actually didn’t see it go in," Hafner said of the winning goal. "So it was a little bit of a scrum trying to figure out what happened but once I saw the red light go on I don’t think I’ve ever skated that fast in my life. It was pretty exciting.”
Western Michigan had on Friday's semifinal on Justin Pitt's coast-to-coast goal in overtime against Michigan. It's the first time WMU won back-to-back OT games since Dec. 12, 1987 and Jan. 2, 1988.
In the consolation game, Michigan State shut out a shellshocked Michigan, 3-0.
Michigan Tech was looking for back-to-back GLI championships, after it was the upset winner last season. The Huskies defeated Michigan State in a shootout Friday to advance.
Tech coach Mel Pearson, who has found some success in this tournament at his alma mater after many championships as an assistant with Michigan, said his team was toe-to-toe with WMU.
"I'm excited about this team as we move into the second half," Pearson said. "It's a fine line between winning and losing. We just didn't get the bounce we need tonight."
Michigan Tech goaltender Pheonix Copley said, "We've made steps this year, and we've continued to that, and that's a great step for this program."
Copley, the hero last year, was the hard-luck loser for the Huskies.
"He gave us every chance to win, and he made it look easy," Pearson said of Copley. "I feel bad for him. The last goal, I didn't even know how it went in. Just a bad bounce."
Kovacs and the Broncos were the beneficiary.
“It was definitely an intense game. We came out and we knew what we had to do in overtime," Kovacs said. "It was a battle all game, and they played really well. It was up and down and back and forth but we are happy to have the win.”
Western Michigan improved to one game over .500, and hopes the win can jump start the rest of its season.
“It will be nice to bring this trophy back to our city and all of the fans that support us, the Blue Line Club and everyone else that is behind us," Kovacs said. "It’s been a long time since we’ve won it so it feels good.”
In the consolation game, Steve Racine made 37 saves in the losing effort for Michigan. Leading 1-0 after a goal early in the opening period of play, the Spartans scored twice midway through the third period to put game out of reach.