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Michigan takes first step in defending GLI title

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen made 31 saves, 15 in the first period, in the 3-2 loss to Michigan in the second semifinal game. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- For the Michigan Wolverines, Joe Louis Arena is like their home away from home.

The Wolverines have won 16 Great Lakes Invitational tournament titles, more than any other team, and came into Tuesday night's semifinal game against Northern Michigan 103-49-5 at the Joe.

Make that 104 victories after the Wolverines came back for a 3-2 win over the Northern Michigan Wildcats.

Michigan will attempt to defend its GLI title against Michigan Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

"I think that's the goal of all the teams that come down here is to get into that championship game," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "It's a great feeling. Our freshmen haven't been through this but our upperclassmen, except for a few that were in the world juniors. We know we're up against a tough team. It should be a good game tomorrow."

The Wolverines kept Wildcats freshman goaltender Atte Tolvanen busy in the first period, sending 16 shots at the net.

Tolvanen stopped all but one.

At 11:42, Michigan defenseman Cutler Martin scored his first goal of the season on a shot from the left point.

Kyle Connor and Joseph Cecconi assisted on the goal.

Tolvanen's 15 saves in the first period were exceeded by his 20 saves in the first Dec. 4 against Alabama-Huntsville.

The Wildcats tied the game early in the second when Gerard Hanson's shot beat Michigan goaltender Steve Racine glove-side at 2:39.

Ryan Trenz had the only assist.

At 11:41, Northern Michigan took its first lead of the game when Dominik Shine poked home a rebound from in front of the net for a 2-1 lead.

"Honestly, I didn't see much," Shine said. "It was just a good shot from our point, he got it through and I saw it pop through and me and my wingman, Cohen, just went for it."

Barrett Kaib and Cohen Adair had the assists.

Shine is tied for second on the team in goals with Robbie Payne and John Siemer with six each.

Wildcats defenseman Zach Urban was called for hooking at 12:13 and the Wolverines quickly capitalized to tie the game at 2.

Justin Selman deflected Sam Piazza's shot at 12:55 for his seventh goal of the season. Cristoval "Boo" Nieves had the second assist.

The Wolverines had a chance to re-take the lead at 13:37 when Hanson was called for a five-minute major for contact to the head of Cecconi.

But the Wildcats allowed just one shot in killing off the lengthy power play.

The Wolverines took back the lead at 4:05 of the third when Connor took the puck all the way around the net clockwise and beat Tolvanen in the top corner.

Dexter Dancs and JT Compher assisted.

"It started off with a great block by JT in the defensive zone and Dancs got the puck and moved it up to me," Connor said. "I just tried using my speed, drove wide around the net and saw an opening up top and shot the puck."

The Wildcats got a five-minute power play of their own when Alex Kile was called for contact to the head at the 13-minute mark of the third.

But the Wolverines killed it off, allowing just two shots on goal.

"We talk about blocking shots is a key for our team," Selman said. "It gets the guys on the bench going a lot. We had a couple big blocks -- JT had a huge block, Sam Piazza came in and had a huge block so when you see guys laying their body on the line like that, winning battles, getting the puck out, it just shows all our hard work kind of pays off on a kill like that."

Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said the long holiday break probably didn't help at that point.

"The truth is you have 10-12 days off and you practice for three days, you get to that 50-minute mark in the game, guys are tired," Kyle said. "There's no way we're in shape for this. We were sloppy and ineffective on the power play."

Racine, returning from missing a month with a groin injury, made 35 saves for his first win since Nov. 27 against Dartmouth.

"I think maybe the break came at a good time for Steve," Berenson said. "With that kind of injury, the time off was really good. We got back on the ice three or four days ago so he's had a chance to recover and refocus and I thought he started off strong and played well all night."

The Wolverines will face a Michigan Tech team that has also had success at the GLI, having won the championship in 2012.

"We talked about this being a team goal for us at the beginning of the year," Selman said. "We usually lose a few guys to world juniors so it's a good chance for guys who have a little bit of a smaller role to come in and step up. Everyone counts and every guy is making an impact and it's a big goal for our team to win this and it's a good jumpstart for the second half so it'll be huge for us tomorrow."

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