Site: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 27-28, 2008
Participants: North Dakota, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech
Game 1: Michigan vs Michigan Tech, 3:05 p.m. ET Saturday
Michigan Wolverines (11-7-0, 7-5-0-0 CCHA)
Head coach: Red Berenson
Leading scorers: So. Aaron Palushaj (8-17–25), So. Louie Caporusso (14-7–21)
Leading netminder: So. Bryan Hogan (9-1-0, 2.24 GAA, .909 SV%)
Michigan Tech Huskies (4-14-2, 1-11-2 WCHA)
Head coach: Jamie Russell
Leading scorers: So. Jordan Baker (8-4–12), Fr. Brett Olson (4-6–10), Jr. Drew Dobson (0-10–10)
Leading netminder: Fr. Josh Robinson (3-4-1, 2.33 GAA, .902 SV%)
Game 2: North Dakota vs. Michigan State, 6:35 p.m. ET Saturday
North Dakota Fighting Sioux (9-8-1, 6-5-1 WCHA)
Head coach: Dave Hakstol
Leading scorers: Sr. Brad Miller (4-14–18), Jr. Chay Genoway (2-16–18)
Leading netminder: Fr. Brad Eidsness (9-5-1, 2.72 GAA, .909 SV%)
Michigan State Spartans (4-11-3, 2-8-2-2 CCHA)
Head coach: Rick Comley
Leading scorers: Sr. Matt Schepke (7-3–10), Sr. Tim Crowder (3-7–10)
Leading netminder: Sr. Jeff Lerg (3-10-1, 2.88 GAA, .912 SV%)
For the 44th annual edition of the Great Lakes Invitational, the rotating fourth slot in the tournament sees North Dakota join the three regulars: Michigan and Michigan State of the CCHA and the Fighting Sioux’s WCHA mates from Michigan Tech. Game 1 this year features the Wolverines and the Huskies, while the nightcap Saturday sees UND take on MSU with the winners advancing to Sunday’s championship game.
Michigan enters the tournament coming off a mixed first half. The Wolverines are No. 12 in the nation thanks in part to a robust offense that has Michigan 15th nationally in scoring. A pair of sophomores, Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso, lead the Wolverines on the scoresheet, though Palushaj as well as Matt Rust will miss the GLI playing at the World Junior Championship. Meanwhile, the net has been capably tended by both senior Billy Sauer and sophomore Bryan Hogan, but head coach Red Berenson has turned to Hogan more often of late; he has the better statistics, including a dramatic advantage in winning percentage.
UM, the defending champion, holds the all-time record for GLI tournament titles with 12, one ahead of archrival Michigan State. Michigan’s first-round opponent, Michigan Tech, has won the tournament nine times, though not since 1980 — although the Huskies nearly ended that skid against these same Wolverines last year, losing a 1-0 double-overtime final. This season, the Huskies have suffered through a dismal first half during which they have won just one WCHA game and four overall. Senior Rob Nolan has slowly given way to rookie Josh Robinson in net, and Robinson has accordingly put up the better numbers — but more scoring is a must for MTU to compete this weekend and in the second half.
Both of Game 2′s participants have both played below expectations so far this season, but only one has shown signs of bouncing back. North Dakota, which has established a pattern of strong second halves in head coach Dave Hakstol’s tenure, may have started its run earlier than usual with a sweep of St. Cloud State heading into the break. UND has sufficient scoring and appears to have found its goalie in freshman Brad Eidsness, giving the No. 18 Fighting Sioux a brighter outlook for the rest of the season.
Michigan State, however, appears to have little such hope. The Spartans won the GLI title and the national championship just two seasons ago, and last year, the Spartans came into the GLI with a 12-3-2 record and on a four-game win streak. Those days seem distant now; MSU enters the tourney on a 11-game winless streak (with a 12th an exhibition loss to the U.S. Under-18 team a few days ago), and the team is showing understandable signs of frustration from its rock in net, senior captain Jeff Lerg, on down. Still, from 1997 until last year, Michigan State had been the only traditional participant to win this midseason tourney, so history may still be on the Spartans’ side.