DETROIT -- Nothing would be better for Michigan State captain Michael Ferrantino than to win the GLI in his senior season.
Ferrantino, a Plymouth, Mich. native, grew up watching the Great Lakes Invitational and then has played in the last three.
"It's been great, a lot of fun," Ferrantino said in a phone interview. "Growing up, I was always going to the GLI. Then my freshman year we lost to Western in the first game in a shootout. Next year we got to play outside at Comerica. Growing up in the area, we went to a lot of Tigers games so that was really special. The last year we obviously lost to Michigan, so we haven't gotten the exact results we wanted, but it's been fun, especially getting to play against Michigan in front of a sold-out crowd."
The Spartans have improved from fourth to second in Ferrantino's time, losing in the championship game last year to rival Michigan.
But Ferrantino knows in order to get a chance to play for the championship, the Spartans have to get through the first game against Michigan Tech.
"It's going to be fun," Ferrantino said. "We've played them twice this year, they were close games. We had leads and gave them up. So we have a little unfinished business and our team is looking for some revenge."
Michigan State lost a 5-4 overtime decision to Michigan Tech Nov. 21 and then had a 4-4 tie the following night.
"It was a good game for our guys," Ferrantino said. "The first night we weren't so good, the second game was better. I did score, it was my first goal in a while. It was nice to play well and contribute. They're a hard-working team, hard to play against."
If Michigan State gets past Michigan Tech and Michigan defeats Northern Michigan, it could set up another huge rivalry game.
"If we end up playing them in the second game, that will make it five times we play them," Ferrantino said. "We played them six times last year and you get pretty tired of each other around games 4, 5 and 6.
"It does make for some exciting, intense games. Not only playing in the championship, but playing your biggest rival, you have fans of both teams there. It makes it a fun time for us."
Ferrantino knew playing in the GLI would be fun, just from having seen it as a fan.
"I always wanted to play in it, going to Michigan-Michigan State games," Ferrantino said. "Growing up I didn't have a preference as a spectator. But seeing the intensity both on and off the ice, it didn't disappoint when I did play. You can definitely feel the passion in the building."
It's still special for Ferrantino to play at Joe Louis Arena, even though he has played there several times.
"It's really, really neat, especially being from Detroit," Ferrantino said. "I went to a lot of games and concerts, I've kind of grown up in this building. As a little kid, playing for the Plymouth Stingrays, we got to play at the Joe, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. It's really, really special for me and the team."
It will also be a little bittersweet for Ferrantino because it's his last GLI and his last time at Joe Louis Arena, which will be replaced in a couple of seasons.
"Everyone is looking forward to the new rink but the Joe's been really special," Ferrantino said. "That building is louder than any building I've been in. There's so much history there. I was in the building when they clinched the 2002 Cup. My mom and dad took me, I was 9 or 10 and I can still remember (Brendan) Shanahan's empty-net goal to clinch it."
Ferrantino said he remains a Red Wings fan to this day.
"I really liked Steve Yzerman when I was younger," Ferrantino said. "He was obviously a great player and a great leader. I've been liking (Henrik) Zetterberg's game. I also like watching some of the younger players, (Tomas) Tatar and (Gustav) Nyquist, that's a lot of fun. And even though he's a Michigan guy, (Dylan) Larkin, I played against him last year, he's doing so well. I followed this team my whole life."
The four-team tournament starts with a doubleheader matchup on Tuesday, Dec. 29 between Michigan State (Big Ten) and Michigan Tech (WCHA) at 3:30 p.m., and Northern Michigan (WCHA) and Michigan (Big Ten) at 7 p.m. The winners of those contests will advance to the championship game on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m., while the other two teams 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.
Michigan enters the tournament as the defending champion, having defeated Michigan State, 2-1, to capture their record 16th MacInnes Cup in the 300th all-time meeting between the interstate rivals. The Wolverines’ lineup also features the most NHL draft picks (12) in the field.
Individual tickets for the 51st annual Great Lakes Invitational are on sale Monday, Oct. 26, at 10 a.m. Little Caesars Family 4-Packs are also available for the GLI. The offer features four tickets, four slices of pizza or hot dogs and four soft drinks, starting at $49 per day.
Individual tickets, along with the Little Caesars Family 4-Packs, can be purchased at the JLA Box Office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at DetroitRedWings.com.