When the NHL announced that Detroit would host the 2012 Winter Classic, sports fans across the state and greater metro Detroit area (Windsor, Toledo, etc) rejoiced. The spectacle would be huge, and even though the actual game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs would be played in Ann Arbor in an attempt to shatter the world record for attendance at a single hockey game, the city of Detroit celebrated.
Then came the great lock-out of 2012.
With the NHL no longer on ice, a flip of the usual play on words, the Winter Classic was cancelled and all related activities from the Classic's festival were cancelled as well, including the planned outdoor games at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. The Great Lakes Invitational was one of those events, but since it was still an annual event, and had a usual home in the famous Joe Louis Arena, it was easily moved back to its usual home.
Now the lockout has ended and everything is pushed back a year. Detroit and Toronto, two completely different teams of the success spectrum (Detroit is like the LA Lakers of hockey. Lots of success, mostly recent, and still has a storied past. Toronto is the Chicago Cubs of hockey. That pretty much explains itself), are set to do battle in Michigan Stadium on New Years Day. Meanwhile, Comerica Park has been primed and ready for the plethora of festivity events scheduled in the beautiful park.
Now, college hockey gets its turn to shine.
Over the next two days, the second largest in-season college hockey tournament in the world will spotlight four of the best teams the state of Michigan has to offer as Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and Western Michigan battle for the MacInnes Cup. Michigan Tech looks to defend their championship, after stunning the field last year and dominating Michigan and Western Michigan en route to their first championship since 1980, while a red-hot Michigan squad looks to win their 5th title in 7 years. Let's preview the field.
#3 Michigan Wolverines
GLI Championships (Last): 15 (2011)
BnG's 2013 Odds: 2-5
Michigan will be the overwhelming favorites to win this season. After struggling to find good goaltending most of last season, the Wolverines found their stride and fell just one game short of making their 23rd straight NCAA Tournament, falling to Notre Dame in the final CCHA Championship in March. Now, Michigan has came out of the gates on fire and Red Berenson looks like he's got himself another potential NCAA Championship team on his hands.
The key to the success has been freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort, who in 10 games has a 6-2-1 record with a 1.67 GAA and a .944 save percentage, putting him 1st and 4th nationally respectively. And it's shown, as the Wolverines have allowed 3 or more goals in just 5 games, but have an offense that, as always, usually can outscore that mark easily. In fact, in the 6 games they've scored 2 or fewer goals, they are 2-2-2, so if Michigan scores 3 or more, it's game over (well, sorta. 3 of those other 8 wins came in OT).
Michigan has yet to play Michigan State this season, and today's match-up with Western Michigan will be their only scheduled meeting of the season after playing 6 games last season, splitting the series 3-3-0 (but winning the 2 games that mattered in the CCHA Quarterfinals at Lawson). The Wolverines are 2-0-0 against Michigan Tech this season with a 3-2 OT win and a 2-1 victory, so expect that match-up to be exciting.
Michigan State Spartans
GLI Championships (Last): 12 (2009)
Michigan State limps in as probably the largest underdogs of the tournament. But hey, it worked for Michigan Tech last year!
MSU struggled all of last year as well, finishing last in the CCHA. However, they did stun Alaska in the CCHA tournament, so anything is possible. But with the Spartans looking like the same bad team, they have to be happy to get the "better" draw in Michigan Tech versus a WMU team that already swept them in a home-and-home last month and the red-hot Michigan team.
Still, the goaltending needs to get figured out, and scoring is still at a premium, as they've only scored 3 or more goals just 5 times this season, but have gone 5-0-0 in those games. Unfortunately, they came against Boston U, American International (twice), and Princeton (twice), who have a combined 13-32-2 record between them (Boston U is 7-8-2. Do the math).
As mentioned above, MSU was swept by WMU in their lone meetings in 2-0 and 4-1 losses. Michigan Tech downed the Spartans in Marquette with 3-0 and 3-2 (OT) victories. MSU and Michigan have yet to play.
Michigan Tech Huskies
GLI Championships (Last): 10 (2012)
So the Huskies have a subpar record? Don't write them off. They've played Notre Dame, Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth, and made a two week long trip to Alaska already. That's tough. They've also played 7 OT games, including 3 of their past 4 games. They'll fight.
Pheonix Copley returns to defend his MVP Trophy from a season ago, and has a respectable .921 save percentage for the original hosts of the Great Lakes Invitational. He also has a good 2.17 GAA, so keep an eye on him to possibly rise from the ashes again. (Don't boo. Every writer used that line last year.)
The Huskies need goal scoring though. They are consistent, but that really isn't a good thing. They are consistently getting 2-3 goals per game, with just 7 games deviating from that trend. However, only 2 of those games were the over mark, and it was only by a goal, as they are 1-0-1 when scoring 4 goals. They've yet to score 5. However, Michigan State's defense should help cure those ails.
Reminder that Tech is 2-2-0 against GLI foes, getting swept by Michigan in Yost and sweeping Michigan State at home in consecutive weeks. They should make the championship game, but would face either Michigan or Western, which is almost a pick-you-poison debate.
Western Michigan Broncos
GLI Championships: 1 (1986)
Western Michigan is this years' "invite" team again, marking the 4th time they've appeared in the tournament. After finishing runners-up last season, they look to finally win an in-season tournament, having finished 2nd and 3rd already in the Gold Rush and Shillelagh Tournaments respectively (they are 2-0-2 in those tournaments though oddly enough).
Usual rock in net Frank Slubowski has been hot and cold, and back-up Lukas Hafner has been pretty solid, but rarely used. The scoring has came in bunches, but is very inconsistent. If the power-play is working, then the even strength isn't and vice versa. Shane Berschbach has been pretty solid scoring-wise though, averaging 1.17 points per game, leading the Broncos with 21 points.
WMU probably enters as the 2nd best team in the tournament. However, they got the tough draw as they'll face a Michigan team who has had just as long as them to gameplan for this game. Red Berenson is just as good a coach as Andy Murray, if not better, and to say a young, inexperienced, streaky Bronco team will be this Michigan team is just hard to say. Still, anything is possible and if they can down the favorites, then the championship should be laden for them.
The Broncos don't face Michigan Tech this season and have already swept Michigan State in a home-and-home. This is their only scheduled meeting with Michigan this season.
How To Watch
You can catch the Great Lakes Invitational on Fox Sports Detroit. Well, sorta. Here are the listings from FoxSports.com. Go check it out if you want to see all of the other stuff going on for the Winter Classic Festival. It's a handful.
3:30 pm - Michigan State vs Michigan Tech (FSD PLUS)
7:00 pm - #3 Michigan vs Western Michigan (FSD PLUS)
3:30 pm - Game #1 Loser vs Game #2 Loser (Fox Sports Detroit)
7:00 pm - Game #1 Winner vs Game #2 Winner (Live Steam on FSDetroit.com)
10:00 pm - Tape Delay of game (Fox Sports Detroit)
So yeah, if you have Fox Sports Detroit PLUS, you get to catch both of the first round games. Fox Sports Detroit will have tomorrow's games for you, just disjointed. The Red Wings at Florida (that'll be, err, exciting. I guess) will air during the Championship with what I assume to be the Pistons (barf) on FSD PLUS.
As I said above, if Michigan doesn't win this, I'll be shocked. But if Michigan State wins this, I'll be even more shocked. Michigan Tech and Western Michigan have the pieces to down the Wolverines, but they just have to all come together. Asking for 1 game to do it isn't much. If Copley or Slubowski play out of their mind, the Huskies or Broncos can win this thing. The Broncos obviously have the better pedigree from the past and have a more solid defense, but must stay out of the box.
Michigan Tech 3, Michigan State 1
Michigan 2, Western Michigan 1
It'll be a tough loss for Western while Michigan Tech should cruise over the Spartans who are just bad. Hell, Copley could probably sit that game and be fresh for the Championship. Michigan State is that bad.
Western Michigan 3, Michigan State 1
Michigan 3, Michigan Tech 2
Michigan is just too good to not win this. I think under the lights, WMU and Tech will bring their A-games, but so will the Wolverines. I actually thing one of those games will be a blow-out, and I'm not counting anything MSU plays in. If Michigan and MSU match-up, that game should finish 5-1 easily.
Keep an eye on this historic even and have a Happy New Year!