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Huskies rally to advance to GLI final

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Michigan Tech's Jake Lucchini scored with 1:26 left in the third to tie Michigan State at 2. Mark Auk and Alex Gillies (not pictured) assisted. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- One thing the Michigan Tech Huskies know is that they are never out of a game.

They've proved it before in two games against the Michigan State Spartans Nov. 21-22 in East Lansing, coming back for a 5-4 overtime win and then in a 4-4 tie.

The story was the same on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena in the first semifinal game of the Great Lakes Invitational tournament as the Huskies rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory.

"I'm extremely proud of our players, they stayed with it," Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "We've been in this situation before and that's one thing about this team, they're going to play to the end, so I'm extremely proud of them.

For the Spartans, it was another case of not holding a late lead.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say it was very frustrating," Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. "I thought we did a lot of good things, especially coming off the break."

The Michigan Tech Huskies came into the game with a better record (10-6-2, 9-6-1) than the Michigan State Spartans (5-11-2, 1-3-0-0).

But the Spartans did have one advantage -- less rust.

Before the GLI, the Huskies last played on Dec. 12 at Lake Superior State, a 6-2 victory.

"We've been off for two and a half weeks since we played our last game, so you never know what you're going to get," Pearson said. "I thought we got better as the game went on."

The Spartans last played Dec. 19 at Northeastern, a 2-1 loss.

That was the latest the Spartans had played in December before Christmas and the GLI since 1992, when they played British Columbia and Kent State Dec. 20 and 22, respectively, in the Nissan Jeep Classic in Anchorage, Alaska.

So maybe that helped the Spartans early as they got on the scoreboard first.

At 5:24 of the first period, Matt DeBlouw went to the net and JT Stenglein's shot deflected off DeBlouw's skate and past Michigan Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips. Rhett Holland also assisted.

The Spartans had a chance to add to their lead when Huskies defenseman Dane Birks was called for hooking at 16:15 but the Huskies killed it off.

The Huskies had an excellent opportunity early in the second period when the Spartans were called for back-to-back penalties, DeBlouw for roughing at 4:51 and Holland for cross-checking at 5:15.

That gave Michigan Tech a two-man advantage for 1:36.

But again, the Spartans' penalty killers and Hildebrand were equal to the challenge, killing off both infractions.

Then when Michigan Tech's Mark Auk went off for hooking at 12:43, the Spartans quickly capitalized.

Mackenzie MacEachern scored from the right circle just 22 seconds into the power play, at 13:05.

MacEachern has eight goals this season to lead the Spartans.

Captain Michael Ferrantino and Brennan Sanford picked up the assists.

The Huskies finally got on the board at 8:44 of the third period.

Alex Gillies tripped over Hildebrand as he headed to the net. While Hildebrand was down, Gillies was able to pop up and knock in a rebound of Mark Auk's shot, cutting the Spartans' lead to 2-1.

Brent Baltus got the second assist.

The goal was reviewed to see if Hildebrand had the opportunity to make the save and was ruled a good goal.

"The way I saw it from the bench, he couldn't get up because the other guy had fallen in his goal crease so that affected his ability to play," Anastos said. "What I was told was there was not contact made with Hilde, that he went down to make the save and the player didn't make contact, the puck was alive and it ended up going into the net somehow."

Pearson and the Huskies were obviously happy with the call.

"We were fortunate to get the call on the goal that was reviewed," Pearson said. "Obviously it changed the game, changed the whole momentum of the game."

Michigan State had a chance with another power play at 9:14 when Chris Leibinger was called for interference but the Huskies killed off the chance.

The Huskies tied the game with 1:26 left in the third when Jake Lucchini scored. Auk and Gillies got the assists.

"We're a good third-period team, I think, and I know we have been behind before and we always try to find a way to get back into it," Gillies said. "Everyone kind of stays focused and knows that we're able to come back from behind. Jamie played well. Obviously they're a great team. I think we just got the good bounces there."

Neither team could score in the remaining time so for the fifth straight game, the Spartans and Huskies needed overtime.

Baltus scored with 1:02 left in overtime for the victory, assisted by Cliff Watson and Leibinger.

"I got the pass up from Leibinger and I didn't think I had a lot of support so I just tried to slow it down, and we've talked a lot about just getting pucks to the net and that's what I did," Baltus said. "Luckily it found a way in."

Anastos said the Spartans screened their own goaltender on the play.

"They kind of criss-crossed right in front as he was shooting and I didn't really see the release of it," Hildebrand said. "I want to make that save, especially in overtime. I've got to try to find a way to make that next time."

The Huskies advance to the GLI final, which they won in 2012.

"That's what it's all about," Pearson said. "You've got to win the first game to give yourself a chance. It's not talking about going to the championship or anything, just getting in that next game, playing that game. Once you get in that game, anything can happen."

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