A slow start put the Wolverines behind early, but a dominating second period and arguably their best defensive performance of the season in the third period led Michigan to a 4-2 victory over Michigan Tech and the 2015 Great Lakes Invitational championship.
The Huskies got on the board first with an early goal from Jake Jackson, the first of his career, and a power play goal later in the period from Tuesday's overtime hero, Brent Baltus.
But down 2-0 after one period, the Wolverines came storming back in the second period. Tony Calderone cut into the lead less than two minutes into the second period, and Tyler Motte tied the game on the power play when he deflected in a Kyle Connor one-timer at 6:39 of the second period. It looked like the game would be decided in the third period until Alex Kile picked up his own rebound shot and fired a goal with 54 seconds remaining in the second frame to give Michigan the lead.
In the third period, Michigan put together a solid defensive effort, limiting quality opportunities for Michigan Tech to maintain their lead. Sam Piazza capped off the tournament with an empty-net goal in the final minute to secure victory for the Wolverines.
The tournament title was Michigan's 17th overall, the most of any school in GLI history. Michigan forward Kyle Connor was given the Jack Tompkins trophy as the tournament's MVP.
F-Brent Baltus, Michigan Tech
F-Kyle Connor, Michigan
F-Dominik Shine, Northern Michigan
D-Sam Piazza, Michigan
D-Mark Auk, Michigan Tech
G-Steve Racine, Michigan
Notes and Thoughts:
-A tale of two games here. Michigan Tech looked great in the first period, and then Michigan dominated the last two periods.
The key difference for me was that in the first period, Michigan was having a tough time establishing their forecheck and wasn't able to slow Michigan Tech down at all on their breakout, allowing the Huskies to use their tremendous team speed through the neutral zone and pressure Michigan's defense. That was the case on Tech's first goal when Jake Jackson blew around a Michigan defender for the game's first goal.
In the last two periods, the Huskies really struggled to break the puck out and get any sort of speed coming out of their zone. Michigan was the faster, hungrier team in the final two periods and won the majority of battles for loose pucks.
-I never thought I'd say this, but what an impressive defensive effort from Michigan, especially in the third period. It's still not a fantastic group. The times Michigan Tech was able to come at them with speed, I thought they really struggled, and their net front defense was atrocious on Tech's second goal. But they really locked things down in the third period. Michigan Tech never developed any sustained pressure in the third period because every shot attempt was one-and-done. If the Wolverines can learn how to play with a lead, they'll be a very dangerous team.
-The biggest surprise on the Michigan blue line was sophomore Sam Piazza, who got my vote, and apparently enough others, to be on the All-Tournament. Piazza was playing in his fifth/sixth game this season, and 15/16th of his career in this tournament, and he gave Michigan a lot of very solid minutes in both games. His late empty-net goal doesn't seem like a huge deal, but the fact that he was out on the ice with under left in a one goal game speaks volumes about the way he played, and would have been unfathomable coming into the tournament.
-Steve Racine returned from a groin injury that kept him out the past month and gave the Wolverines a nice lift in goal. He didn't have to do a lot tonight, but he caught a lucky break when he got a friendly bounce off the cross bar to prevent a goal, then stopped Brent Baltus on a semi-breakaway. Both those plays came in the five-ish minute period between the time Michigan made it 2-1 and when they made it 2-2. If the Wolverines go down 3-1 there, the game likely has a much different tenor.
-This was just the seventh game of the season for rookie Jake Jackson, but if tonight was any indication, he should be playing more. Jackson has game-breaking speed that gave Michigan fits all night. Tech's fourth line was arguably their most dangerous tonight, in large part because of what Jackson was able to do.
-A nice goal by Tony Calderone to get Michigan on the board. His goal came off a set face-off play. Cooper Marody won the draw cleanly to Brendan Warren, who hit Calderone with a pass in the high slot. I've really liked this Warren-Marody-Calderone line all season. Calderone is a natural finisher and playing with two quick, skilled guys opens up space for him to use that scoring ability.
-Michigan Tech's best chances to tie the game came early in the third period when they received back-to-back power plays. First, Joe Cecconi took an unnecessary elbowing penalty, then the Wolverines got caught on a bad change and Cooper Marody had to hook a player on a breakaway(That easily could have been called a penalty shot, by the way). The Wolverines had a couple great kills though and Michigan Tech never really got set up on those power plays.
-If there was any doubt heading into this week: Kyle Connor is the best U20 player not at the World Juniors.
2:55 Jake Jackson from Dylan Steman and Reid Sturos 1-0 Michigan Tech
Jackson received a pass with speed in the neutral zone. He jetted down the left wing, beat a Michigan defender and roofed a wrist shot over the shoulder of the Michigan goalie.
14:21 Brent Baltus from Mark Auk and Matt Roy (power play) 2-0 Michigan Tech
Auk's shot from the left point was tipped by a wide open Baltus in front of the net past Racine for the goal.
1:48 Tony Calderone from Brendan Warren and Cooper Marody 2-1 Michigan Tech
Marody won the puck cleanly off a face-off at the right dot to Warren. Warren passed it Calderone who set up in the high slot and fired a wrist shot that Phillips got a piece of, but couldn't keep out of the net.
6:39 Tyler Motte from Kyle Connor and JT Compher (power play) 2-2 Tie
Connor ripped a one-timer from the right face-off dot that was going wide, but deflected off the shin pad of Motte in front of the goal and in.
19:06 Alex Kile from Boo Nieves and Sam Piazza 3-2 Michigan
Kile skated into the zone down the right wing. He took a wrist that bounced off a Tech defender's pads, but the puck bounced right back to him and he was able to put his second shot into the goal.
19:28 Sam Piazza unassisted (empty net) 4-2 Michigan
Piazza collected a turnover in the neutral zone and from just inside the red line, scored into an open net.