Depleted Michigan edges Michigan State in GLI final

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mel Pearson knows about Wolverines.

The Michigan Tech hockey coach was an assistant coach at Michigan for 23 years. When he talks about Wolverines, his words should be heeded.

"Trying to beat a Wolverine is tough," he said. "Trying to beat a wounded Wolverine is even tougher."

Now Michigan State knows.

With goals by Andrew Copp and Zach Hyman and another stellar performance in goal by Steve Racine, the Wolverines beat the Spartans 2-1 to win the 50th Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament Monday.

"This was huge for us," Hyman said. "It's definitely something we can build on going forward. Every year we've won the GLI we end up going on a big run. Hopefully we can make that happen again."

Copp, Hyman and defenseman Michael Downing were all named to the All-Tournament Team. Racine, who made 71 saves in the two games, was the tournament MVP.

"It's a good way to start the second half," said Racine, who hadn't started for two months before Sunday. "The guys did a great job in front of me. I don't think there were more than five Grade-A chances against.

"This was exactly what we needed. It's only two games, but it's something to build off of."

For venerable coach Red Berenson, it was his 14th GLI title, and the third in the last five years.

"If you would have asked me two weeks ago what our chances are in the GLI, I would say our team was really going to have to overachieve and I told our team that," he said. "I usually tell our team that they don't have to overachieve to win, but going into the weekend we had players who weren't playing well and as a team we weren't playing well.

"Our goals-against wasn't where it needed to be and we had players missing. I told them they would really have to step it up and they did."

The Wolverines were missing four of their top players. Forwards Dylan Larkin, who was the No. 1 pick of the Red Wings in the 2014 draft, Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher, plus defenseman Zach Werenski are competing for Team USA at the World Juniors.

"People say, 'Why do you let them go, the GLI is a big thing,'" Berenson said Sunday after his team beat No. 5 Michigan Tech 2-1 in the semifinal game. "It is a big thing, but an international tournament is a big thing, too. I think we have to step back sometimes and let these kids have that kind of experience.

"Would we be better with those four guys here, yeah, but that doesn't mean we can't compete."

Michigan drew first blood at 9:17 of the first period. A clever play along the boards by Alex Kile sent Copp in on a two-on-one. Copp, the Michigan captain, buried his eighth goal of the season.

In the second period, Hyman scored his second goal of the tournament and his ninth in 17 games this season. He stopped a shot by Downing in front of Spartans goalie Jake Hildebrand and deftly flipped a quick backhander into the top shelf.

Racine made it stand. After stopping 40 of 41 shots against Tech Sunday, the junior handled 31 of 32 shots from the Spartans. Not bad for a goalie who had been benched earlier in the season.

"I had my fingers crossed," Berenson said of his decision to start Racine. "I've seen him play really well and I've seen him play not so well. But as a coach, when you have players who have been up and down, like, they are on the team for a reason. You've seen them play well. That's why you recruited them.

"It's just a matter of can you do it now."

The Spartans cut the lead in half at 4:07 of the third. Defenseman Rhett Holland let a shot go from the point that found its way into the top half of the net. Racine might have been screened on the play by Spartans forward Ryan Keller, who waved at the puck as it went past.

It was Holland's first career goal.

Hildebrand did some amazing work to keep at 2-1. On successive rushes, Kile, who was the best player in the tournament not selected to the All-Tournament team, created two great scoring chances. The first was on a two-on-one and he fired a hard shot that Hildebrand stopped.

Next time down, another odd-man rush, Kile slipped a pass to Tony Calderone. Hildebrand sprawled across the crease to make the save.

Racine made his most important save with less than eight minutes to go. With the Wolverines on a power play, Spartans' Joe Cox broke away from Downing but Racine made a clutch right pad save.

"My takeaway is disappointment, obviously," Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. "We had a real opportunity to win something and launch our second half of the year. But, with a clear head and taking the emotion out of it, we did some good things this weekend.

"For most of our guys, it was their first experience in a championship game and there's benefit in that. But it's still difficult to lose."

It looked like Michigan reestablished a two-goal lead. With 5:56 left, Copp put a shot on Hildebrand that trickled through his pads and into the net. After review, the goal was disallowed. The referee's whistle had blown the play dead.

Besides the four Wolverines, Michigan State's Holland and Michigan Tech captain Tanner Kero were selected to the All-Tournament team.

Future teams

Tournament officials announced that Northern Michigan will be the fourth team (along with Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech) next year. Western Michigan will get the draw in 2016. And in 2017, the year the new hockey arena is expected to open, Bowling Green will be the fourth team.