Who: Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Boston College
When: December 29/30
Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
One of my favorite GLI anecdotes is that there was a group of hockey fans a handful of years ago while Michigan Tech was in the midst of a six year streak of finishing last at the tournament who said that the Huskies shouldn’t be invited to the tournament anymore, overlooking the fact that they are in fact the hosts.
Tech has finished in fourth at the GLI in eight of the last ten years, but this year they have a legitimate shot, despite the strength of the field, of taking home the GLI championship for the first time since 1980. First year coach Mel Pearson has gotten the benefit of a healthy roster, but has completely turned things around in Houghton. The Huskies 6 WCHA wins and 9 wins overall already more than double last year’s totals of 2 and 4, respectively. They’ve spread the scoring around as well: no Husky has 10 goals, but seven Huskies have tallied 4 or more on the season.
Michigan State has been one of the more surprising teams in the country this year. After finishing 10th last year I thought they’d be down in that range again this year, but sit in a tie for 6th in the CCHA through the midway point. Torey Krug has been phenomenal again this year and is showing off why I picked him as an all CCHA defenseman, scoring 5 goals and adding 6 assists in 12 conference games. The Spartans have struggled a bit defensively this year: they’re ranked 21st nationally (which isn’t great in the CCHA) and that is despite having the third best penalty kill in the country at 89.7%.
Michigan will likely be without Jon Merrill due to World Juniors, then again they have been without him all season due to his suspension. Without him the Michigan offense sure hasn’t missed a beat, scoring 3.55 goals per contest which leads all CCHA teams. Defensively has been another story, as Michigan is 7th in the league in scoring defense, allowing 2.65 goals per game (only in the CCHA is allowing 2.65 per a bad thing). Senior goalie Shaun Hunwick got off to a great start but hasn’t really been able to hold onto it, as his save percentage has slipped to .917. He hasn’t had to face many power plays either, with Michigan ranking 7th in the CCHA in penalty minutes.
Likewise, the Eagles will likely have a player missing due to being at World Juniors, but it will be a player who has contributed all season: Johnny Gudreau has 7 goals and 7 assists in his first 18 collegiate games, and 5 of those goals have come in Hockey East play. The Eagles power play has struggled mightily this year. At just 18.7% it ranks 7th in Hockey East, but its 87.8% PK is best in the league and ranks 10th nationally. BC’s big star is obviously Chris Kreider, who has 12 goals and 23 points and ranks 16th nationally in points per game and 11th nationally in goals per game. Boston College has struggled quite a bit in net this year, as Parker Milner ranks 51st nationally with a .901 save percentage. You can win a national championship, as Duluth showed last year, by getting a hot goalie at the right time, but he’ll obviously have to be better if Boston College wants to win another title.
This year the GLI looks to be the best of the holiday tournaments. All four teams have had quality years so far and all of them still have NCAA tournament hopes. Michigan Tech probably caught a bit of a bad break in its best year in roughly a decade with the GLI having Boston College and Michigan State being better than expected. I’ll take Michigan, who will be playing in a familiar arena and with a full compliment of players, to win this year’s version and their fourth in the last five years.