I am on medical leave for a while. I will miss you all, but a group of stellar Michigan Tech personalities have stepped up to write guest columns while I am away. Today, Director of New Media for the Office of Athletic Communications Calvin Larson writes about the history of the GLI. —Dennis
Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson etched his name into the lore of the annual Great Lakes Invitational even before the No. 5-ranked Huskies took to the ice for the 50th edition on Dec. 28-29, 2014.
The Huskies outplayed Michigan in the semifinal but were steered away by a hot goaltender, falling 2-1. In the GLI third place game, the Huskies’ offense came alive as the Black and Gold defeated Ferris State 4-2.
Pearson is in his fourth season on bench and has 57 wins as the leader of the Huskies, ranking him fifth all-time at Tech. Three more victories will move him to fourth and nine more to third.
The coach has a storied past with the GLI, played annually at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and hosted by Michigan Tech. He is the only person to win the tournament as both a player and head coach and has been a part of 17 GLIs as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
As a player at Tech in 1979, Pearson buried a championship-winning goal for the Huskies 2:28 into the third overtime to end the longest game in GLI history. The goal gave Tech a 5-4 win and its fourth GLI championship in a row.
“I tell people it was my first shift of the game,” he said. “Everybody else was so tired they finally decided to put me out (laughs). But no, it was one of the highlights of my college career and experiences as a player.
“The only thing I remember is when we got back to the Renaissance Center, it was so late in the night the only place we could get food was from room service. We were all broke, cheap college kids and room service at the Ren-Cen wasn’t cheap (laughs). We had to pay 16 dollars for a hamburger.”
Pearson was an assistant coach under Red Berenson at Michigan, where he helped the Wolverines to a 667-243-71 record, 11 Frozen Fours and two national championships. The Maize and Blue also won 12 GLI titles during that time, including nine straight from 1988-96.
At the 48th annual Great Lakes Invitational in 2012, Pearson led Michigan Tech to its first championship since 1980, his senior season as a Huskies player.
“The GLI is a very special tournament, not only for me, but I think for all Michigan Tech fans in general,” he added. “It gives us an opportunity to showcase our team to a lot of our alumni down in southeast lower Michigan who don’t have a chance to come up to the Upper Peninsula to see us play.
“It’s one of the, if not the, premier college hockey tournaments in the country. It’s played in a great venue with a lot of history and with very good teams.”
This year’s field of teams consisted of schools exclusively from the state of Michigan for the 12th time. Michigan took home its 16th title with a 2-1 win over Michigan State and pulled the GLI banner up to the ceiling of Joe Louis Arena.
“I think they did a real neat thing a few years ago where they put a banner up there for the GLI champions that hangs in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena all year,” said Pearson. “I think that’s another incentive to want to win it.”
The tournament has evolved just like hockey.
“I played when it was in the Olympia (Stadium), so that’s how old I am,” Pearson said. “I think it’s just like hockey in general. The players, the pace of the game. The game itself has become so much quicker, so much more skilled. The players are so much bigger. I think the event has really grown. It’s just become a premiere event.”
Tech has claimed the MacInnes Cup 10 times in the tournament’s history. This season, the Huskies started unranked in the preseason polls but climbed all the way to No. 1 with a 10-0 start—the best in the team’s 94-year history.
Like it is every year, the 2015 edition of the GLI will be circled on the calendar, and a preseason team goal of the Huskies will be to win it.
“It’s a feather in your cap,” Pearson said. “It’s just confirmation that you can play with some of the best teams in the country. Also, we’ve always used it as a springboard into the second half of the season because it really does start the second half of the college hockey season. We always talked about getting off to a good start, and winning that tournament can really give you a push toward that second half. It’d be huge for our school.”
Though the Huskies didn’t claim the 50th GLI title, they did walk away with the confidence they need to jump-start a second half of the season that could lead them to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Pearson didn’t win a NCAA Championship as a player, but he has goals to win one as a head coach.