Michigan Hockey: GLI Hockey Tournament Has A Local Flavor This Season
What: GLI Semi-final games 12/29 (Saturday)-Michigan Wolverines (6-9-2) vs. Michigan Technological University (4-10-3) 7:05 p.m. #8 Western Michigan Broncos (11-4-1) vs. Michigan State University (5-10-2) 3:35 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Detroit (201 Comcast.) 12/30 (Sunday) third place game will begin at 3:35 p.m. and the championship game will follow at 7:05 p.m. Both games will be on Fox Sports Detroit Plus. Follow the action with Al Randall and Bill Trainor on the IMG Sports Network (WTKA 1050 a.m.) or track their progress on www.mgoblue.com
Wolverines Eager To Return To The Ice
Michigan Hockey took a much needed respite from the ice as the Christmas break continues. They enter the GLI tournament on the heels of a very important win against WMU two weeks ago. A.J. Treais leads the Wolverines with 10-6-16 and defenseman Mac Bennett follows with 4-8-12, +4. Freshman Boo Nieves (3-8-11) is coming off a two assist game. All three will be vital to the Michigan offense as defenseman and PP specialist Jacob Trouba (5-6-11) will be absent while playing for the USA’s World Junior team in Russia. Nieves and Trouba are tied with sophomore Alex Guptill (4-7-11) for third spot in team points. Junior goaltender Adam Janecyk (1-0-0) secured his first start against Western and shut out the Broncos for his first career win. He may be tabbed for the opening game against the WCHA’s Michigan Tech Huskies.
No word on other injuries, but the expectation is that Jon Merrill will again be absent from the lineup recovering from a broken vertebrae and defenseman Kevin Clare is probable with an undisclosed injury.
Profiling The Rest Of The Field:
Michigan Tech enters the tournament anchored near the bottom of the WCHA and can be best described as a “transitional team”. Second year coach Mel Pearson is known around the Michigan hockey circles as one of Red Berenson’s former assistant coaches (23 years) and was most responsible for bringing in the talent that culminated in the 1996 & 1998 National Championships. Pearson, a former Husky, is looked upon to build back a program that claims three of their own national championships. Pearson also won the 1979 GLI championship game for the Huskies (against Michigan) in OT. Pearson brought along two other former Wolverines in assistant coach Billy Muckalt (’94-’98) and volunteer goaltending coach Steve Shields (’90-’94). Muckalt was on the roster and contributed heavily to Michigan’s last two titles, while Shields set a NCAA record for career wins (that was subsequently broken by his predecessor, Marty Turco.) Pearson and his staff were responsible for Tech’s march to a top end finish in the WCHA last season and a dramatic improvement in their scoring.
This season has not been as bright, though, as the Huskies are younger and less experienced. The roster is balanced with seven members representing each class. Senior Captain Carl Nielson mans the blue line and has tallied 1-2-3 for the Huskies. Alternate Captain (junior) Brad Stebner is also a mainstay on the back line and has added 1-4-5 this season. Senior Alternate Captain Steve Seigo (4-4-8) is a feisty forward that adds some size up front. The bulk of the Huskies offense comes from their underclassmen, though, as freshmen Alex Petan (4-9-13) and his fellow BCHLer and Oiler draft choice Jujhar Khaira (3-9-12) work on the same top line. Sophomore David Johnstone (4-9-13) may move up to the top line since fellow sophomore and leading goal scorer Blake Pietila (10-2-12, NJ draftee) is also playing for the USA’s U-20 team in the World Junior Tournament. Ironically, both Johnstone and Pietila have brothers and a cousin on the roster as well (Jacob Johnstone, Chad and Aaron Pietila.) Injuries have also depleted the lineup, although Tech is reporting that sophomore defenseman Justin Fillion (1-2-3) and sophomore forward Tanner Kero (3-6-9) are ready to return.
Goaltending duties have been split between senior Kevin Genoe (3-3-3, 3.26 GAA, .902 Save %), Jets draftee freshman Jamie Phillips (0-2-0, 2.48 GAA, .905 Save %) and freshman Pheonix Copley (1-6-0, 4.36 GAA, .851 Save %). Genoe and Phillips have seen most of the action in the Huskies last ten games. The Huskies are coming off of a demoralizing home sweep at the hands of North Dakota. Tech has played most of their opponents close this season even if their record doesn’t indicate it. They have wins against (then) #1 Minnesota and LSSU this season, and have swept Bemidji State on the road, along with a pair of ties at Wisconsin and a single draw against Minnesota-Duluth.
The Spartans are sitting just below Michigan in the standings, but are beginning to gel much better than earlier this season. Sophomore Matt Berry (9-7-16) leads the offense along with fellow sophomore Brent Darnell (5-8-13). Freshman forward and Calgary draftee Matt DeBlouw (4-9-13) is starting to emerge. Senior Matt Grassi still patrols the blue line and holds the best +/- rating at +1 along with freshman forward David Bondra. The Spartans also offer three other NHL draftees: freshman defender John Draeger (1-4-5, Minnesota), junior blue liner RJ Boyd (Florida) and freshman defenseman Rhett Holland (Phoenix.) Freshman netminder Jake Hildebrand (3-5-1, 1.81 GAA, .941) and junior Will Yanakeff (2-5-1, 3.88 GAA, .869 Save %) split the goaltending duties.
The Broncos come into the 2012 GLI tournament as the “guest” invitee, supplanting earlier invitee Saint Cloud State University due to the interest to draw more local fans- especially with the anticipation of having the tournament played outdoors at Comerica Park. (The NHL lockout cancelled the outdoor event and brought it back indoors to JLA.) This is the Broncos first entry into the GLI since 1977.
The Broncos appear to be the favorites in the tournament, traveling downtown from Kalamazoo as the eighth ranked team in the country after splitting with Michigan two weeks ago in Ann Arbor. Senior Captain Dane Walters (7-6-13, 4 PPG’s) leads the offense along with junior power play sniper Chase Balisy (6-5-11). Walters and Balisy have combined for four GWG’s, two SHG’s and seven PPG’s. Junior defenseman Dan DeKeyser (2-6-8) is a big, strong two way skater as are fellow blue liners (sophomore) Garrett Haar (3-3-6), (freshman) Kenney Morrison (4-6-10), sophomore Jordan Oesterle (1-3-4) and senior ironman Luke Witkowski (1-3-4). The Broncos are stingy defensively and pounce on opponent’s mistakes. They give no room for their opponent’s to skate and frequently use their defenseman on the offensive rush. They are big on the edges and yet are not prone to taking bad penalties.
The goaltending is handled by superb sophomore Frank Slubowski (11-4-1, 1.98 GAA, .918 Save %). Slubowski has two shutouts on the season.
Tale Of The Tape: Holiday Version- The Gift That Keeps On Giving The Whole Year Round
Michigan enters the tournament as the team with the best average offense (although, as I have cautioned before, the numbers are skewed against “better” teams.) and will be hampered by Trouba’s absence, especially on the power play. Tech’s offense will also be lessened by Pietila’s departure. WMU’s offense is better than it has produced on the average and tends to be more a product of Coach Andy Murray’s system. MSU has struggled all season offensively, unless you consider a handful of games where they have broken out with a combined 17 goals against LSSU, BGSU and Michigan. I’d give Western Michigan an edge since they have their full roster for this tournament and utilize their defense frequently in adding offensive pressure- something that Michigan has done at the risk of defensive breakdowns this season.
Defensively, Western Michigan again is the best team represented, not only for their team play, but for their goaltending as well. Look for Michigan Tech’s defensive struggles to continue. Michigan will try to use their effort against WMU two weeks ago as a template for the 2nd half- but without Trouba, their defensive troubles may re-appear. MSU will need to stay close to the vest on both ends of the ice in their opener against the Broncos but can open it up a bit against either Michigan or MTU.
WMU’s PP is… special. Don’t put them on it. MSU’s penalty kill is statistically the best in the tourney, but good money shouldn’t be placed on taking chances against the Broncos. Conversely, the Broncos have a respectable PK that should be tested against one of the other solid PP’s in the CCHA and probably one of the reasons that MSU’s offensive numbers are not below two goals per game.
Michigan’s special teams are not by any means special. It could be a major factor in both of their games this weekend. Tech has a solid PP, but is the worst statistical PK in the tournament. They too will be exploited. None of the teams take an inordinate amount of penalties, but with the firepower WMU and MSU enjoys on their power play units, they will not need excessive chances to connect.
Bottom Line: If Michigan stays away from penalties and costly giveaways, they should muster enough offense to outlast MTU. WMU, on the other hand, will wear down a MSU team that doesn’t match the same experience and talent as the Broncos.
On Sunday, WMU will hoist the banner and the MSU/MTU game will be an entertaining toss-up.
-Michigan enjoys a 120-93-5 all time record against Michigan Tech. The Huskies have not beaten the Wolverines in the GLI since a 7-3 romp in 2000.
-The Huskies are 78-75-2 all time against MSU and last defeated the Spartans (4-1) in 2007. MTU is 10-2-1 all time against the Broncos but have not played them since 1990. The Huskies beat the Broncos 6-2 in the 1977 GLI tournament.
-Michigan holds a 69-30-10 all time record against WMU and will play the Broncos twice in Kalamazoo (in January) and will travel to WMU for the first time since the 2009-2010 season when the Wolverines defeated the Broncos 4-3 at Lawson Ice Arena. Since then Michigan has played six straight CCHA games at Yost, posting a 6-1 win in 2009-10, 6-3 and 5-4 (OT) wins in 2010-11, splitting games (3-2 loss/5-2 win) last season and splitting at Yost this season (4-1 loss, 2-0 win.) They have played the Broncos twice in the CCHA playoffs in the last two seasons: in the 2010-11 semifinals (a 5-2 loss) and in the 2011-12 CCHA championship game losing 3-2.
-MSU holds a 61-29-8 record against the Broncos all time and has not faced WMU this season. The Spartans are 125-142-19 (according to Michigan archives) against the Wolverines.
-Michigan is seeking its 16th GLI Tournament Championship (5th in the past six seasons) and won the 2011 tournament by defeating eventual National Champion Boston College 4-2 in the semi-final game and then defeated MSU 3-2 in OT on Kevin Clare’s back door game winner.
-The Wolverines will resume the second half of the season with an exhibition game January 3rd against the USNDT (under-18 team). Bowling Green visits Yost on January 8th for a single weekday night affair.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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