Detroit — Growing up in Howell, Logan Pietila said it was a holiday family tradition for his family to attend the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena.
Now, after his debut in the 55th annual event, the Michigan Tech freshman is part of GLI lore.
Pietila came into Tuesday’s GLI final with one career goal, and left Little Caesars Arena as a hero with a hat trick, lifting Michigan Tech to a 4-2 victory over Michigan.
"Ever since I was young, it was kind of a Christmas thing, I used to come up with the family and watch it every year," said Pietila, winner of the Jack Tompkins Trophy as the GLI's most valuable player. "I've always wanted to be a Huskie, it's always where I wanted to play. A lot of cousins have gone through here. It's a great school and a great organization."
Pietila’s final blast was the game-winner, going high to the short side of Michigan's Strauss Mann with 4:20 to play for the title, the Huskies' 11th in the event, which they co-host with Michigan.
It was the kind of afternoon Pietila dreamed about when he committed to play for former Tech coach Mel Pearson as a teenager, alongside his twin brother, Blake, a goaltender.
But back then, Logan Pietila couldn't have envisioned his big games would beat Pearson, now in his third season as head coach at Michigan.
"I had both Logan and Blake there, made them an offer and committed them to Tech," Pearson said, laughing. "He's a good player, they're both really good players."
Michigan Tech (12-8-1) had finished as GLI runner-up in each of the last four years but finally broke through Tuesday.
"We wanted to come out with a win, and get that monkey off our back," said Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan, a former Pearson assistant. "We figured out how to get to the championship game (five straight times), now we figured out how to get through it one time."
Alec Broetzman added an empty-netter with 8.5 seconds left for the Huskies, as Michigan fell to 7-11-2.
After entering the game with one goal in his first 20 collegiate games, two of Pietila’s goals were assisted by Trenton Bliss.
The GLI co-hosts were playing each other in the finals for the 11th time and first since 2015, a 4-2 Wolverines win. Tech now has a 7-4 series advantage against Michigan in GLI finals.
"We host this tournament, and there's a lot of pride," Michigan Tech's Eric Gotz said. "You look at the people in the stands, all the Michigan Tech alumni, and they're cheering us on. It's awesome they come down here, and we want to put on a good show for them."
Now with 11, Michigan Tech trails fellow event mainstays Michigan (17) and Michigan State (12) for most GLI titles.
"It means a lot to all of us," Shawhan said. "There's such a pride for Michigan Tech hockey in our community (Houghton). Anytime we can do anything to enhance that, and continue the growth of that ... we had alumni in our locker room yesterday that said in four years, they never won a game here.
"Anytime we can give our people back home what they deserve, it's a tremendous amount of pride for us."
Michigan opened the scoring at 5:55 of the second period, as Nick Pastujov jammed in a wraparound from behind Michigan Tech goaltender Matt Jurusik’s net.
Pastujov was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Tech's Gotz, Bliss and Jurusik, and Dennis Cesana of Michigan State.
Michigan Tech knotted it about 5 minutes later when Pietila finished a pass from Bliss.
"The truth about Logan is he probably could be in, and maybe to start with, should've been in, juniors again," Shawhan said. "Obviously his talent is here to help us.
"We were concerned we were going to set his development back, but he's just grabbed it and ran with it, and I think actually it's accelerated his development."
After his first shot was blocked by a defenseman, Michigan’s Jack Becker beat Jurusik to regain the 2-1 lead with 92 seconds left in the second period.
Just 89 seconds into the third period though, Pietila's second goal of the game came as his wrist shot went off a screening defenseman and past Mann.
"We have a saying on the bottom of our stairs before we go on the ice, it's 'Every play matters,''' Pearson said. "Every shift matters. You can see it, it's a game of mistakes. You make one or two mistakes, they capitalize on it, and our night is over."
Jurusik made 35 saves for the Huskies and was helped by his goal post, which stopped a potential game-tying, one-timer off Jacob Hayhurst's stick with 19 seconds left. For Michigan, Mann made 27 saves.
Michigan was without defenseman Cam York, who was the 14th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft by Philadelphia, and forward Johnny Beecher, the 30th pick by Boston, because they are with Team USA for the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
The Wolverines return to Big Ten play at Notre Dame on Jan. 10 to try and improve on a 2-7-1 conference record. Michigan Tech, which sits at 8-6 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play, continues Saturday at Arizona State for a nonconference game
Northern Michigan will join Michigan, Michigan Tech and Michigan State in the 2020 GLI field.
Third place: Michigan State 5, Ferris State 2
Michigan State scored the first four goals, including three in the first period, to claim third place for coach Danton Cole.
Jerad Rosburg, Tommy Miller, Sam Saliba, Dennis Cesana (two assists) and Patrick Khodorenko (assist) had the goals for the Spartans (10-9-1, ranked No. 18 by USA Today), and John Lethemon made 22 saves in the win.
Jake Transit and Nate Kallen (assist) had the goals for Ferris State (6-11-2) and coach Bob Daniels.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.