Detroit – Mel Pearson will lead his Michigan Tech team on the ice at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday afternoon for a GLI semifinal game against Michigan State.
No one knows the GLI more than Pearson, who will be participating in his 38th GLI as either a player, assistant coach or head coach. The Huskies play the Spartans at 3:30 p.m., followed by the Michigan-Northern Michigan semifinal at 7 p.m.
Pearson took over a Tech program that went 4-30-4 in 2010-11 and has turned it into one of the premier teams in the WCHA. The Huskies finished 29-10-2 last season, earning its first NCAA tournament appearance in 34 years.
Pearson guided the Huskies to their first GLI championship since 1980 in 2012. They lost to Western Michigan in the title game outdoors at Comerica Park in 2013 and lost to Michigan 2-1 in last year's semifinal before defeating Ferris State in the third-place game.
"It's a privilege to be a part of this tournament; to me it's the premier hockey tournament in all of college hockey," said Pearson, who won four straight GLI titles as a player with Michigan Tech in the late '70s and early '80s, scoring the winning goal against Michigan in the third overtime of the 1979 GLI title game "For Tech, it's exciting for the program, alumni and entire university to come to Detroit and play in Hockeytown."
How good has Pearson been at Tech? The Huskies won a total of 70 games in the eight seasons prior to his arrival. Pearson is 82-74-19 in four and a half years, including 10-6-2 this season. They are 7-2-2 in their last 11 games, including a 5-4 overtime win and 4-4 tie against MSU in East Lansing Nov. 21-22.
Pearson has fared much better than Tom Anastos, who was also hired prior to the 2011-12 season at MSU, going 66-86-18 with the Spartans, 5-11-2 this season.
Pearson isn't disappointed with Tech, but thinks the Huskies should be stronger during the second half of the season.
"We haven't played to our potential yet, so it's exciting to know we have more to give and I feel we will," said Pearson, who could be the leading candidate to replace Michigan 76-year-old head coach Red Berenson, who is in the final year of his contract. "We lost a lot of our forwards so I was wondering where we'd get our goals from, but that hasn't been a problem. Instead the defense has, and we had everyone coming back on defense. We need to get better defensively."
Alex Petan leads Tech in scoring with 19 points, including 10 goals, with Tyler Heinonen leading the Huskies in goals (11). Joel L'Esperance scored his first goal in the GLI last year and has eight goals already this season.
"Jamie Phillips has been good, solid in net," Pearson said.
Tyler Heinonen scored three goals in the weekend series at MSU, including two in the 5-4 win, with his second being the winner in OT.
Phillips, a senior, is 10-5-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Last season, Phillips was 28-9-2 (1.74, .933).
Pearson thinks the Huskies will have to put pressure on MSU senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand to be successful. They did a good job in the series last month. Hildebrand's numbers have slipped to 5-10-1 with a 3.08 GAA and .902 save percentage from 17-16-2 (2.18, .930) a year ago.
"We have to get bodies in front of him, get rebounds, put pressure on him," said Pearson of Hildebrand. "There were 17 goals in the series last month, but I don't expect to see that again -- maybe a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 game."
Great Lakes Invitational
At Joe Louis Arena
Michigan Tech vs. Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.
Michigan vs. Northern Michigan, 7 p.m.
Third-place game, 3:30 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.