HOUGHTON - "Maybe this will be the year," Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson said about this year's Great Lakes Invitational.
Huskies coaches, players and fans have been saying that since 1980, the last time Tech won its own holiday tournament - when Pearson was still a player - but no matter how bad a 31-year drought sounds, it's a clean slate as the GLI enters its 48th year.
"It's a different cast of characters, new players, a new year. Every year is different," Pearson said. "We can't change anything that's happened in the past, but they have a say in righting the future. I like our team."
Alex Petan and the Michigan Tech Huskies begin play tonight in the 48th Great Lakes Invitational against Michigan. Game time is 7:06 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
After a 4-10-3 start to the season, Tech is taking that same clean-slate mentality into the second half of this year as well.
"What it does this weekend is it can jump-start your second half," Pearson said. "We know what we've done, what we haven't done, but it's the start of the second season. We can start fresh and we start now.
"It can really help your team and program if you have a good tournament."
Pearson should know, having been involved in 16 GLI championships between his playing and coaching career at Tech, and 23 years of coaching at the University of Michigan.
The Huskies are coming off a holiday break in which they didn't practice for a week and Pearson simply advised players to stay in shape. The team has been practicing in Ann Arbor since Wednesday, and won't skate at Joe Louis Arena until this morning, before playing Michigan (6-9-2) at 7:06 tonight.
The winner of tonight's game will vie for the GLI championship (7:06 p.m. Sunday) against either Michigan State (5-10-2) or Western Michigan (11-4-1), though Tech is only eyeing one opponent.
"All our energy and focus is toward that first game," said Pearson, who sees Michigan following a similar season as the Huskies. "They've mirrored us a bit. Goaltending they're still searching for the guy, and defensively they're not doing as well as they hoped, but they're very talented up front."
Tech has the fifth-worst defense in the country (of 59 teams), giving up 3.71 goals per game, while Michigan is eighth-worst, surrendering 3.35 goals per game. Neither team has performed well on special teams either, and something has to give between Michigan's 41st-ranked power play (13.89 percent) and Tech's 53rd-ranked penalty kill.
Both coaches will be faced with adjustments since Tech's best forward Blake Pietila and his team-leading 10 goals and Michigan's best defenseman Jacob Trouba are both playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in Russia.
"It's an opportunity to look at some other players at that position. What I remember from this tournament is it's not your leading scorers, you need contributions from other players, and that's what we're looking for," Pearson said.
Tech will have Tanner Kero back at full strength, and fellow sophomore David Johnstone has 10 points in his last eight games. Tech's top five scorers are underclassmen.
Lineups are still in question, and so is tonight's starting goaltender. Follow @steander on Twitter for updated lineups early this afternoon and continuing coverage throughout the weekend.
Whoever starts for Tech will need one primary facet of their game clicking in full gear.
"We must play with energy. That's always to me the biggest thing (in a post-holiday tournament). The team that seems to have the most energy and who can execute the best will usually win," Pearson said.
"Goaltending is so big in these tournaments, too, because everything else is usually just a bit off after the break."
In addition to the GLI drought, which includes finishing last in nine of the last 11 years, the Huskies have only won one of their last 21 games against the Wolverines and one of their last 15 against the Spartans (they haven't played the Broncos since 1990).
But, maybe, just maybe, this will be the year.
Today's MSU/WMU game is slated for 3:36 p.m. Both games today will air on Fox Sports Net Detroit, while Sunday's games (3:36 p.m. consolation, 7:06 p.m. championship) will air on FSN Detroit Plus due to a conflict with the Detroit Pistons.