DETROIT — The Great Lakes Invitational Tournament turns 50 years old at Joe Louis Arena in December.
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson — who played in and won four consecutive GLI tournaments for the Huskies from 1977 to 1980 — said the tournament, like everything else, has changed with the times.
“I mean I played when it was in the Olympia so that’s how old I am,” Pearson said. “I think it’s just like hockey in general. The players, the pace of the game, I mean just the game itself has become so much quicker, so much skilled. The players are so much bigger. I think the event has really grown…It’s just become a premiere event.”
Pearson served as an assistant under Red Berenson at the University of Michigan for 22 years before making the move to his alma mater in 2011. Ann Arbor was a place he never would have thought he’d land in during the 1979 tournament.
The Huskies and Wolverines faced off in the championship game that year, playing a 4-4 tie deep into triple overtime before Pearson scored the game-winning goal for Tech. The win gave the Huskies their fourth consecutive GLI championship.
“I tell people it was my first shift of the game,” he said. “Everybody else was so tired they finally decided to put me out (laughs) but no, it was one of the highlights of my college career and experience as a player.”
Ironic that Pearson’s moment in GLI history would include both of his future employers; he continued to make light of the memory.
“The only thing I remember is when we got back to the Ren-Cen there that it was so late in the night, the only place we could get food was from the room service and we were all broke, cheap college kids and room service at the Ren-Cen wasn’t cheap (laughs) we had to pay 16 dollars for a hamburger.”
When December 28th rolls around and the 50th annual tournament gets underway, Pearson and the Huskies will be all business. The GLI will feature four Michigan-based schools for the 12th time, meaning bragging rights for the mitten state will be on the line.
Pearson said, “I think they did a real neat thing a few years ago where they hang the banner up there for the GLI champions that hangs in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena all year until the next year. I think that’s another incentive and sort of neat thing to happen.”
With a 10-2-0 record, the Huskies are off to their strongest start to the season since 1973 when the team started out 10-1-1 en route to a 1974 NCAA championship game appearance against Minnesota. That year, Michigan Tech finished with 27-10-3 record after falling to the Gophers 4-2 in the championship game.
Pearson said winning the GLI tournament would be a great launching pad for his team moving forward.
“It’s a feather in your cap,” Pearson said. “Its just confirmation that you can play with some of the best teams in the country. Also, we’ve always used it as a springboard into the second half of the season because it really does start the second half of the college hockey season. We always talked about getting off to a good start and winning that tournament can really give you a push toward that second half. It’d be huge for our school.”
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