Tech makes statement at GLI, despite loss to MSU in title

By Derek Berry
They came so close. As in one goal, one period, one shot from glory
that this Michigan Technological University hockey team and 15 or 16
others have never known…the glory of a Great Lakes Invitational title.

Perhaps one shot could have gone their way in a thrilling overtime match with the No. 1 ranked Michigan State Spartans, but that was not the case, as MSU collected their fourth consecutive GLI championship with a 3-2 OT win over the Huskies.

The loss was devastating for the young team, only because they had done so well all weekend, beating one of the top five teams in the nation (handing No. 4 Michigan their worst loss in the GLI and maybe anytime in the recent past with a 7-3 pasting in the first round) and outplaying the Spartans in the tournament final.

These Huskies made a major statement and were looking to start a streak that MSU and U-M have had ahold of for the last decade or so…at least since those outstanding John MacInnes-coached MTU teams that won five consecutive GLI titles from 1976-1980 and nine GLI championships total from the late 1960’s until 1980.

In fact, the Huskies hadn’t even appeared in the GLI final since 1991. This group of Michigan Tech hockey players rose to the occasion and played like champions all the way through.

MTU head coach Mike Sertich called the weekend a major steppingstone for the program.

“This is a process that a program takes to become a top-notch college hockey program,” said Sertich, who replaced fired head coach Tim Watters in November. “Commitment is power, commitment is really about dying for it and the kids did that (in this tournament).”

Sertich said his team was not intimidated by the powers-that-be (ask previously No. 1-ranked North Dakota about that…the Huskies defeated them earlier in the season) and why would they be? They had nothing to lose. No one expected a team with only three wins to even come close to competing. But, that’s all Tech did.

“The kids made good adjustments,” said Sertich. “We got really psyched up for these games, but we fell a little short.”

Even MSU’s legendary head coach Ron Mason had some kind words for the Huskies and their head coach, knowing his team may have gotten away with one.

“Michigan Tech played hard and they played very well,” said Mason. “They made us play their game and I commend Mike (Sertich) and his staff.”

Michigan Tech took the loss in stride, but they had to be excited after beating Michigan and frothing at the mouth over the possibility of
knocking down the Spartans.

MTU senior forward Matt Ulwelling said the team was excited and confident.

“We were pretty excited about playing the number one team, in our first GLI title game too,” said Ulwelling, one of the Huskies leading scorers. “We were confident. We knew we could play with the best after the Michigan victory.”

The win over U-M and the well-fought effort with MSU felt good too for some of the hometown Detroit Huskies.

Jarrett Weinberger, a senior forward from Detroit, agreed with
Ulwelling’s and the rest of his team’s sentiments about the weekend.

“Yeah, the U-M win felt good personally playing at home here,” said Weinberger, who also was competing in his first GLI title game with
MTU. “We don’t get home too much and we have great support from our
fans and our pep band.”

How they got here

The Huskies got to the GLI title for a number of reasons. Not to take away from their hard work, but they may have gotten a couple breaks from first round opponent U-M. Not only were the Wolverines not on top of their game, but they were missing some key players.

Sophomore forwards Andy Hilbert (Howell) and Mike Cammalleri and
freshman defenseman Mike Komisarek were all playing in the World Junior
Championships during the GLI, while senior defenseman and co-captain
Dave Huntzicker (Ann Arbor) and junior defenseman Jay Vancik were out
with injuries.

All of this set the Michigan hockey squad back a bit over the weekend, but gave them no excuse to play so poorly with the 8-5 loss to Boston College in the consolation game and the loss to Tech, according to U-M head coach Red Berenson.

“With the defensemen we had out, our defensive plan became to protect the defense,” said Berenson. “It’s tough to get behind in these games and we did that both nights.”

Michigan gave up an astounding 15 goals in the two games, putting them in the consolation for the first time since 1987 and giving them their first fourth place finish since 1983, Berenson’s first season as U-M’s coach.

U-M senior forward and co-captain Geoff Koch clearly looked and sounded like a senior who was not happy to go out of the GLI for the last time on a losing note.

“I’m disappointed and we’re all devastated,” said Koch, who had a power play goal against BC. “It’s not about talent, it’s about skill and although we missed Hilbert, Cammalleri and Komisarek, there’s no reason we shouldn’t go out and win,” he said, slightly referring to the team’s opening night struggle with Tech.

Both MTU and U-M knew they would be playing the Spartans in the final if they won, because MSU knocked off the Eagles in the GLI opener 4-1, with senior forward and captain Rustyn Dolyny getting a couple of goals for MSU.

The final: So close, but not enough

The GLI final had all the makings of a possible blowout. The No. 1 team in the country coming in against the perennial also-ran. But, Michigan Tech stood tall and did not play like a team with a
less-than-stellar record.

The Spartans took the lead late in the first period on a power play goal by senior forward Damon Whitten (Brighton) after a roughing penalty assessed to MTU’s Greg Amadio. It was one of many tough hits in the opening period, which turned out to be quite chippy on both sides.

Things were a bit quieter in the second period with both teams skating and the play getting a bit more defensive.

Tech’s sophomore netminder Brian Rogers (Flint) and MSU’s Ryan Miller (East Lansing) were solid when they had to be. MSU had some big chances near the end of the second and caught a break with four seconds left in the period, scoring on yet another power play. Junior defenseman Andrew Hutchinson (Rochester Hills) put the Spartans in front 2-0 with a shot from in close.

Entering the third period, MSU had the kind of lead they can play with, being the defensive-oriented team they are and with Miller backing them up.

One might think Michigan Tech would have felt the heat and wilted. But, they played with character and guts and stuck with Coach Sertich’s game plan.

Ulwelling said the Huskies naturally knew they had to open things up.

“We knew we had to find a way to skate through MSU’s trap defense,” he said. “So, we chipped in to the open ice a little bit and caught them off guard.”

The Huskies caught MSU off guard quite a few times giving goalie Ryan Miller a nice workout. They even ended up outshooting MSU 44-28.

MTU got that coveted first goal midway through the third period when freshman defenseman Justin Brown scored a power play goal to make it 2-1. The Huskies kept applying the offensive pressure and after several near-misses, found daylight a few minutes later on yet another power play with a goal by sophomore forward Chris Durno, tying the game 2-2.

Weinberger knew the defense would have to be stern, but the offense would have to open up too.

“We knew going into the third period that we had to open up the middle, maybe get some soft chips in,” said Weinberger. “We really outworked them in the corners.”

MSU knew the Huskies wouldn’t die without a fight and they got a good fight for at least another period and a half. While the Spartans had some chances, it was Michigan Tech peppering Miller with shot after
shot, putting MSU on their heels.

MSU’s sophomore goalie and Buffalo Sabres draft choice knew that the Huskies were not going to go away.

“I know a few of their players and they have a lot of character,” said Miller. “They have some guys that can shoot, so I wasn’t surprised that they hung in there.”

Overtime was a seesaw, grip your seat, feel the sweat affair. But, just when it looked the like the Huskies had MSU on the ropes and a
second OT was looming, MSU’s senior forward John Nail caught a Michigan
Tech defenseman off guard coming up the middle with the puck and made
the Huskies pay, swiping it in past Rogers unassisted for the thrilling
victory and sending Mason’s Spartans home victorious.

“I saw the puck get caught up in the defenseman’s feet, so I chipped it ahead and looked for the open space and just made any move I could on the goalie,” said Nail, of his gamewinner. “It was really hard to adjust to them and we knew they’d come out hard and they did. We got lucky tonight.”

Mason echoed those sentiments, while heaping praise on his rivals from Houghton.

“We learned a lesson tonight in how hard we have to work,’ said Mason. “But, I’m proud of the way we played and I’m proud of the way they played too. There’s a lot of character on Michigan Tech.”

Although they were choked up a bit, the Huskies held their heads high.

“This is what college athletics is all about,” said Sertich. “I tip my hat to coach Mason. We knew they were good, maybe better, but maybe not as good as some other teams, but they are solidly coached.”

The Huskies are solidly coached too and were looking ahead to what could be more shining moments.

“This is a special moment that we’ll never forget, even though we didn’t win,” said Weinberger. “We’re going to be around come playoff
time and we plan to be. Tonight and this weekend proved that.”

Just like the old times

Ron Mason was around when the GLI moved from the old Olympia Stadium over to Joe Louis Arena and he remembers many GLI’s.

The final between Michigan Tech and Michigan State took him back.

“This is the way the GLI used to be,” said Mason, referring to the old days when the Huskies dominated and his Spartans had some thrillers with Tech, on the way to four straight titles from 1982-85. “Anybody could’ve won this game. I’m pleased our team hung in there…”

Just like old times II

It was the first time since 1984 that MSU and Michigan Tech met in the GLI final…

Coach or comedian?

Michigan Tech head coach Mike Sertich had some good lines and a couple
that went straight over the heads of the media gathered to listen to him
after the tournament games.

On MSU’s win: “And they didn’t even have Mateen Cleaves.”

On his team’s game plan and preparation: “We like to use humor in our game plan. We went to Forest Gump today and used that.”

On MSU’s goalie Ryan Miller: “Who was he? Who was playing goal? What’s his name? I’m sorry, I was behind the bench and I couldn’t see his jersey…”

Taking them all seriously

MSU defenseman Andrew Hutchinson indicated in the post-game
championship news conference that the Spartans might have stolen one
against the Huskies. “As a number one team, you can’t take ’em lightly
whether it’s number two or Michigan Tech…”

MSU loves the Joe

The Spartans love JLA and are once again claiming it as Munn Arena-East after Michigan’s near-decade long run as claiming it Yost Arena-East. In addition to winning the past four GLI titles, MSU has won two out of the last three CCHA tournament championships at the Joe and is a staggering 11-0 in overtime at Joe Louis Arena, 5-0 alone in OT in GLI games…

A real survivor

One truly frightening moment took place in the opening period of the championship, when an MTU player drove MSU’s Rustyn Dolyny headfirst into the boards. The back of his head and neck area bounced off of the wall causing him to go down in a world of pain.

Dolyny, MSU’s captain, was pretty humble about the hit.

“Yeah, I hit the boards hard, but I used some bad judgment,” he said. “I got back up, but it happened too quickly for me to be scared about it at the time.”

Dolyny was helped to the bench by an MSU trainer and after a few
minutes was out on the ice, sore back and all…

Who let the sophomores out?

Not only do both Michigan Tech and Michigan State have plenty of young stars, but both teams used sophomore goalies in the final (Brian Rogers for MTU and Ryan Miller for MSU)…

Thanks for having us

Coming into the weekend, Boston College was ranked No. 2 in the country before running up against No. 1 Michigan State in the marquee opening round matchup. Surely, MSU had revenge on their minds after losing to BC in the NCAA tournament’s opening round last season.

But, the Eagles were glad to have stopped by, taking the third place prize home by beating U-M in the consolation.

“It’s good that we bounced back from the MSU loss,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “Michigan was missing three tough players, but in a month or so they’ll be tougher.”

Still, York was happy his team was invited back to the GLI, it’s first appearance in the tourney since 1973.

“It’s a great tournament, great for the teams and the city of Detroit was good to us,” said York…

See ya’ next year

The top teams keep on coming to the GLI. Besides host Michigan Tech and traditional powerhouses MSU and U-M, North Dakota will be the
visiting fourth school next year. They will play U-M in the opener, while MTU awaits a rematch with Michigan State…

All-GLI Tournament team
Goaltender: Ryan Miller-Michigan State
Defense: Andrew Hutchinson-Michigan State
Defense: Mat Snesrud-Michigan Tech
Forward: Rustyn Dolyny-Michigan State
Forward: Damon Whitten-Michigan State
Forward: Krys Kolanos-Boston College