Detroit — Lake Superior State now has two things to celebrate while spending its New Year’s Eve in the Motor City.
The Lakers will, of course, be enjoying the countdown to midnight, but they’ll also be hitting the town with a shiny piece of hardware after defeating Michigan Tech, 6-3, to earn their first Great Lakes Invitational championship at Little Caesars Arena on Monday.
Head coach Damon Whitten, who won four straight GLI championships as a player at Michigan State from 1997-2001, said that the difficulty of doing “something for the first time at Lake State” makes the win a bit more special.
“We’ve got five national championships, we’ve got Hobey Baker Award winners, tremendous alumni, history tradition, but this is our first Great Lakes Invitational championship,” he said.
Lakers captain Diego Cuglietta, who sent Lake State (11-6-1) to the championship game with his overtime winner against Michigan State the night before, scored twice and Bryan Basilico’s first goal of the season was the difference.
Cuglietta, the tournament MVP, said that his team finished strong because it didn't alter its game plan when things got rough.
“I think we stuck to our system really well,”Cuglietta said. “We didn’t differ from it or try to change things up when we went down a couple times.
Cuglietta’s co-captain Gage Torrel was ejected for a hit to the head in the second period, yielding a five-minute major in which Tech pulled even, 2-2, with a goal by Alex Smith.
Whitten said his senior class did a great job of keeping the team “even-keel” when hit with adversity.
“You prepare for those things,” Whitten said. “It’s all part of it. We have those standards they play too, they don’t get up, they don’t get down.”
Hampus Erikkson beat Tech goaltender Robbie Beydoun 1:02 after Cuglietta’s first goal to give Lake State a 2-0 lead 11:36 into the game.
“I think the better team won,” Tech coach Joe Shawhan said. “We were just kind of hanging on the entire game.”
Jake Lucchini got Tech (11-8-1) back in the game at 16:51 in the opening period, beating Nick Kossoff with a wraparound goal to make it 2-1.
After Torrel’s penalty expired, though, LSSU got going full steam ahead, and they benefited from some trips to the penalty box by Tech.
Max Humitz sent a puck into the net with the help of a screen from Cuglietta, and with 3:48 left in the second period, Basilico gave the Lakers their second two-goal lead of the game with a power-play tally.
Lucchini said that despite having an advantage in minutes spent on the power play, the timing of Tech’s penalties took the wind out of his team’s bench.
“We don’t get four lines going so a lot of guys aren’t getting a lot of minutes,” Lucchini said.
“Then you have the period, so guys are sitting for 30 minutes, right? It kills momentum for our team, it kills momentum for individuals that don’t play on the penalty kill. You just can’t get much going after that.”
Tech made things interesting again three minutes into the third. Trenton Bliss won a battle of strength in Kossoff’s crowded crease and pushed in a power-play goal to cut the Huskies deficit to 4-3.
Even so, Tech never was able to attack with consistency. Cuglietta and Steven Ruggiero finished the job with two empty-net goals.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.