Michigan tops Ferris State, Mel Pearson to face ex-employer for GLI title

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan head coach Mel Pearson had a simple response to hearing that his old friend, assistant, and current Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan was hoping to play the Wolverines in the Great Lakes Invitational final.

“Good. He’s going to see us,” Pearson said.

Pearson left Michigan Tech in 2017 to head the program in Ann Arbor, losing both opening GLI games as head coach of the Wolverines entering Monday, while Shawhan and the Huskies made it to the finals in both.

There will be a reunion between the familiar foes at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, as Michigan defeated Ferris State, 4-1, in the nightcap of Monday’s doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena to advance to its first GLI final since 2015, when it defeated Pearson's Michigan Tech squad.

Tech advanced to the final with a 4-2 victory over Michigan State earlier in the day.

“They’re just another team for our guys. It’s not me against Michigan Tech, it’s Michigan against Michigan Tech,” Pearson said. “Our players, they have no connection or affiliation there. It doesn’t matter who we play.”

Jake Slaker scored in the first and second periods before Will Lockwood (Canucks) and Dakota Raabe each added another in the third. The Wolverines (7-10-2, 2-7-1 Big Ten) staved off a shaky start behind strong goaltending from sophomore Strauss Mann, who saved 22 of 23 shots and had his shutout ruined with just 1:45 left in a 3-0 game.

Brenden MacLaren scored for Ferris State (6-10-2, 4-6-2 WCHA) on a goal assisted by Marshall Moise.

Michigan forward Jake Slaker, left, sends the puck past Ferris State goaltender Austin Shaw for a goal in the first period.

“Having a year under my belt helps a lot,” said Mann, who started the semifinal in last year’s loss to Tech.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable, confident, a little calmer in net, and I know the guys in front of me are going to play really well every night, so that’s a huge confidence boost.”

Pearson attributed Slaker’s two-goal performance to being “opportunistic” and reinforced the importance of his top line producing.

“We need our seniors to lead this team, especially the second half,” Pearson said. “We really like this team, we like our seniors, so it’s good to see Will get one, good to see (Slaker) score. That’ll really help us.”

Michigan was without freshmen Johnny Beecher (Bruins) and Cam York (Flyers), who are representing the United States in this year’s World Junior Championships.

Slaker opened the scoring for the Wolverines with a power-play tally at 8:31 in the first period to wake up a Michigan team that was feeling the effects of not playing in more than three weeks.

“You could tell that we haven’t played since Dec. 7. I thought we were real sluggish tonight against a gritty team that doesn’t give you much,” Pearson said. “There wasn’t a lot of time and space, we couldn’t use our speed as well as we’d have like tonight.”

Slaker added his second goal at 14:22 in the first, putting the Wolverines up 2-0 with a breakaway goal assisted by Keaton Pehrson and Jack Summers.

After MacLaren ruined the shutout for Mann, Raabe added an empty-netter with 57 seconds remaining.

Ferris State will play Michigan State in the third-place game at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.