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Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan was getting worn out by the same old question. Every time the Huskies’ season reached the halfway point, he would hear queries about when the Huskies might finally break through and win a Great Lakes Invitational championship.
‘’You think the fifth, sixth year being in the championship game you’ve figured anything out?” recited Shawhan, absorbing the fans’ frustration over Tech’s five runner-up performances in the past six GLI tournaments.
Finally, this past New Year’s Eve, Shawhan’s Huskies put the issue to rest. They rode spectacular goaltending from Matt Jurusik — and a storybook hat trick from freshman Logan Pietila — to a 4-2 championship game victory over the University of Michigan.
“We figured out how to get to the championship game,” Shawhan said. “Now we’ve figured out how to get through it one time.”
It was the 11th GLI title for the host Huskies, their last coming in 2012. One of the offensive heroes from the championship game eight years ago was Aaron Pietila from Brighton, Michigan. Their cousins — 12-year-old twin brothers Logan and Blake Pietila of Howell, Michigan — attended that game at Joe Louis Arena, providing a GLI memory that shaped their lives.
“Ever since I was young, you used to watch it every year with the family, kind of like a Christmas thing,” said this year’s GLI MVP, the now-19-year-old Logan Pietila. “I’ve always wanted to be a Husky. A lot of cousins have gone through here; it’s a great school, great organization.”
The amount of Pietila cousins who have traveled upstate to play in Houghton, including a pair named Blake, can spin one’s head. Dave Karnosky of the Daily Mining Gazette did his best to sort out the Pietila family tree.
“It’s hilarious,” Karnosky said. “You have the twins, Logan and Blake [current Tech freshman goaltender], and Blake is also the same name as the center [2014-15 captain] who transferred from Northern to play at Tech. You have cousins with the same name; they are also cousins with Aaron [played four seasons at Tech, graduating in 2013] who’s also a Brighton kid, and they’re cousins with Tyler Heinonen who is from Minnesota, but played at Tech. It’s incredible to see how these things work out.”
Two more incredible facts about Logan Pietila: first, his hat trick Tuesday quadrupled his career goal-scoring total; and second, if it weren’t for a player shortage at Tech, Logan would have been playing junior hockey this season.
“The truth is, at the start of the year, he probably should have been playing juniors,” said Shawhan, who admitted his team was thin at center ice. “There was concern that bringing him in early we were going to set his development back.”
That discussion is now moot, as the previously unheralded teenager is now part of Michigan Tech’s illustrious hockey history: he’s only the seventh Husky named GLI MVP in the 55 years they’ve been hosting the tournament.
Beyond the narrow focus of northern Michigan’s Copper Country, Tech’s GLI championship had the WCHA league offices crowing from their league offices in Bloomington, Minnesota. Not only did Tech sweep a pair of games from the vaunted Big Ten conference, but they are now the third consecutive WCHA school to win the GLI Championship.
“I know the WCHA can play with every team in the country night to night,” said WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson. “Winning three consecutive GLIs for the WCHA is a wonderful representation of the conference.”
For four-time GLI runner-up Joe Shawhan, the bottom line is relief: “I’m glad we were finally able to do it, because we won’t have to hear any more questions.”
Tim Rappleye is the author of Jack Parker's Wiseguys: The National Champion BU Terriers, the Blizzard of '78, and the Road to the Miracle on Ice. He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.