2022 Great Lakes Invitational Championship

CCHA Reasons To Watch: A Golden Ticket For Michigan Tech

CCHA Reasons To Watch: A Golden Ticket For Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech could earn itself a massive prize over the holiday season. The Huskies are headed to the Great Lakes Invitational in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dec 22, 2022 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA Reasons To Watch: A Golden Ticket For Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech could earn itself a massive prize over the holiday season. 

While most of America opens gifts and eats coffee cake on Christmas Day, Joe Shawhan’s Michigan Tech Huskies will be loading up their iconic black bus and pointing it east toward the Mackinac Bridge. 

They will spend the night at the confluence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and the finish to their journey in Grand Rapids could lead them to the 2023 NCAA Hockey Tournament.

No, they are not hopping into some kind of time machine, but there’s a compelling argument that the 57th annual Great Lakes Invitational Tournament is a play-in tournament for Tech and its bid for the NCAA Tournament. 

The 2022 GLI is a more-than-reasonable facsimile of an NCAA Tournament regional from Tech’s point of view. This notion is based entirely on the Pairwise rankings, a topic that consumed Shawhan a year ago, but one he has yet to mention this season.

The NCAA Tournament committee uses the Pairwise rankings exclusively to select the at-large teams for its 16-team championship tournament. 

Getting to No. 14 in the national rankings usually is on the good side of the “bubble,” depending on how many longshots win the conference tournaments. Michigan Tech currently sits at No. 18, the only CCHA school in the top 20.

The Huskies’ opening opponent at the GLI is Western Michigan, a solid squad from the powerhouse NCHC conference. 

A win over Western Michigan will be a gift that keeps on giving. 

Due to comparative scores, every subsequent win by the Broncos against NCAA shoo-in teams, such as Denver and St. Cloud, will boost Michigan Tech’s Pairwise.

But the real prize is Michigan State, a club that is enjoying a massive turnaround under first-year coach Adam Nightingale. 

The Spartans are sitting in eighth place nationally in the Pairwise rankings, and presuming they defeat Ferris, as expected, in their semifinal Tuesday, Michigan State will be waiting for Tech in the final.

Beating Michigan State will be a daunting task. 

FloHockey viewers saw what kind of hockey the Big 10 plays when Ohio State, ranked No. 10 in the Pairwise, bludgeoned the Falcons with 14 goals in last weekend’s sweep. 

But Tech is the cream of the CCHA, and the Huskies will compete.

The degree of difficulty is high – playing national powers from the best conferences in the country on consecutive nights. Just like the NCAAs. Only better. 

NCAA regionals are under heavy criticism because of empty neutral arenas and no passion in the stands, but Dec. 27-28 should be different. 

Grand Rapids is about an hour commute, or less, for participants from Ferris, Western Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan Tech, the official host with by far the longest commute, will be the most represented because of all the passionate down-state alums and the school’s irrepressible band.

It’s a regional tournament with national implications, college hockey at its best and a golden ticket hanging in the balance for Tech.

The Resuscitation Of The GLI

Though the tournament has been played for over half a century, the GLI nearly cratered last year. 

Due to COVID-19 and a less-than-eager Little Caesars Arena, the tournament organizers decided to hold the games on campus last year for the first time. 

Then, co-host Michigan chose to cancel its second game of the tournament, blowing off nationally ranked Western Michigan, which only played one game, instead of two. 

Former Michigan coach Mel Pearson canceled the game, claiming concerns from the school’s health department. Pearson then was contradicted when a letter emerged showing he was the one who raised health concerns. 

Accusations flew that Michigan was ducking powerful Western Michigan to preserve its own Pairwise rankings. No one’s name ended up on the GLI trophy, and the future of the tournament, a holiday fixture in the Michigan sports landscape, was on thin ice. 

Enter Suzanne Sanegret, Michigan Tech’s Director of Athletics, who worked tirelessly to find a new home for the GLI at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, a 12,000-seat arena that is home to the AHL Griffins. It’s a hockey venue in a good hockey town. There is reason for optimism that the GLI has found a long-term home.

Though there was no trophy hoisted at last year’s tournament, one team did claim the title.  

Since Western Michigan went undefeated, beating Michigan State in its only game, the Broncos went ahead and proclaimed themselves the 2021 GLI champions. There certainly weren’t any protests in Kalamazoo.