Western Michigan Gets OT Winner to Take GLI Title
CHN Staff Report
DETROIT If it was going to be the last Great Lakes Invitational game played at historic Joe Louis Arena, it might as well end with dramatics.
With "The Joe" set to close at the end of this season, having seen many noteworthy college hockey events in its years, Western Michigan — the one team in the tournament not part of the annual rotation — got a goal 11:55 into overtime to defeat Michigan Tech, 1-0.
"I've had the good fortune to have this occupation my whole life, I've never had to have a real job. And tonight was as good as a hockey game as I've ever been involved in," WMU coach Andy Murray said. "You saw scoring opportunities on both sides, guys sacrificing, eating pucks, blocking shots. ... It's the last year of the GLI here at The Joe, and no one else is going to win the last game in the GLI here and Western Michigan did."
For the winner, freshman Wade Allison fed Colt Conrad at the far post, and Conrad punched it in for his fourth goal of the season and the win.
"It feels good just for the team," Conrad said. "We've worked so hard this season, and I feel we're finally getting what we deserve."
Freshman goalie Ben Blacker made 23 saves, picking an opportune moment for his first career shutout.
Just to get to that point, Western Michigan first had to fend off a five-minute major power play for MTU during overtime, part of which was neutralized by a MTU penalty, and a 5-on-3 earlier. In all, WMU stopped five Huskies power plays in the game.
"We had a lot of guys eating pucks and making sacrifices to kill off that penalty," Blacker said.
Said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson, "Our power play let us down a little bit tonight. We haven't had much time to work on our 5-on-3 in practice, but we looked stagnant out there and that was a real key to the game."
Blacker was a lot of the reason for that success, and he has been a great story lately. In a season filled with freshmen excelling in net for teams across the country, Blacker is just now getting his opportunity. He had some success early in the year, but deferred to upperclassmen. But he entered in relief of a loss on Dec. 9 to North Dakota and played well, then defeating UND the next night. That was WMU's last game before the GLI and Blacker got both wins in Detroit, allowing just one goal in two games. His record is now 5-0 with a .939 save percentage; the team's two other goalies both have save percentages below .900.
Pearson was trying to create a poetic ending to the GLI's run at The Joe. Pearson played on the Michigan Tech team that won the first GLI at the arena, in 1979.
"It was a good hockey game," Pearson said. "They're a good team and kept pushing the pace, and they got the bounce they needed. I wasn't expecting it to be as defensive as it was tonight. There weren't a lot of opportunities with both teams taking away time and space and both goaltenders playing very well.
"It's a tough loss, but I like this group we have. We'll bounce back and be ready to go next weekend."
Western Michigan had a goal taken off the board just 1:19 into the first period. Allison scored from the slot but Michigan Tech challenged the goal. The referees ruled that WMU entered the zone offside and the goal was disallowed. Griffen Molino had the team’s best scoring chance late in the period but MTU freshman goalie Angus Redmond stoned him on the breakaway.
Western Michigan heads into the new calendar year at 10-5-3 and No. 8 in the Pairwise. It has two games with red-hot Denver looming.
"We didn't have a strong year last year. We came back with a new conviction. The head coach knew he had to be better. And we changed some things and got some quality people. When you're surrounded by quality people, good things happen."