DETROIT — It’s hard to believe that 50 years have gone by without Ferris State University making an appearance in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament.
The GLI history books are littered with Michigan-based schools from Western Michigan to Lake Superior State but Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels said their absence from the holiday tournament wasn’t for lack of effort.
“For years, we tried to get in to the tournament,” Daniels said. “But it was very difficult when we were in a conference with Michigan and Michigan State because it’s hard to get fans excited when basically three of the four teams were in the same conference. Now that we’re in a different conference, it opened the door for us to get into it.”
Conference realignment in college hockey came at just the right moment for forward Chad McDonald who grew up dreaming of playing in the GLI.
“I don’t think words can really describe it, to be honest,” McDonald said. “I grew up watching the GLI. I remember going down there, being a young kid with my parents and just being in awe of all of it. When I committed to Ferris, I always asked ‘when are we going to be able to play in the GLI? When is that opportunity gonna come?’
"I remember getting a call from our assistant coach Mark Kaufman one day and he goes ‘hey we got the GLI it’ll be your sophomore year’ and I was ecstatic. I just can’t wait and especially with it being the 50th anniversary and one of the last couple I would assume in the old Joe Louis Arena. It’s gonna be pretty cool and definitely being a Michigan kid growing up around it, I’m very excited.”
From Battle Creek, McDonald is one of 18 Michigan natives on the Ferris State roster, making their maiden trip to the tournament a special one for many of them.
Goalie C.J. Motte, from St. Clair, said, “I mean growing up watching it there’s always a great number of fans there so it’s always a great tournament to go to and watch. So getting to play in it is something I’ll remember for a long time.”
It will be a special moment for the coaching staff as well.
In his 23rd season behind the bench for the Bulldogs, Daniels has led his team into several holiday tournaments from the Catamount Cup in Vermont to the Mariucci Classic in Minnesota and the Badger Hockey Showdown in Wisconsin but he said there’s nothing quite like the GLI.
“I’m very biased, to me it’ll be number one, without a doubt,” Daniels said. “We enjoy those other tournaments, it’s great exposure for our program outside of the state of Michigan. But for us, being that we’re going to be in it with three other teams from the same state, given the history of that tournament…it’s a big deal and if I could compare it to the Rose Bowl, it has similar prestige in my opinion within the college hockey circles.”
If the Bulldogs are able to come away victorious in the GLI, it will be the first time since Harvard in 1972 that a first-time participant won the tournament. Such an accomplishment would mean a great deal to the university and the program. For McDonald and others, the experience alone will be one to remember.
“I’m excited to go down there and represent Ferris State,” McDonald said. “We work hard and I’m just very excited to get down to Joe Louis Arena and look up and see all the fans up there and be playing in front of that big of a crowd in that building. I remember when I was nine years old and going to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final when the Red Wings won the Cup against Carolina and I was at the game where they raised it. I get to play in the building that it happened in and it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The four-team tournament will kick off on Sunday, Dec. 28 with a doubleheader between Michigan and Michigan Tech at 3:30 p.m. and Michigan State and Ferris State at 7 p.m. The winners of those contests will advance to the championship game on Monday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m., while the other two will meet in the third-place game at 3:30 p.m. on the same day. All four games of the GLI will be televised live on FOX Sports Detroit Plus.
Individual tickets for all 2014 GLI are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.