This holiday season sees the return of the annual Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. Entering its 56th year, the GLI finds itself in another new venue, leaving the Motor City for Grand Rapids and the Van Andel Arena, home to the Grand Rapids Griffins. The teams battling it out are our Michigan Tech Huskies (11-5-3, 11-4-3 (0-1) Pairwise), Michigan State Spartans (12-7-1, 12-7-1 (0-0) Pairwise), Western Michigan Broncos (10-9-1, 10-8-1 (0-1) Pairwise), and Ferris State Bulldogs (8-8-2, 7-7-2 (1-1) Pairwise). Like years previous I will be breaking down each game on day one and then take a quick look at the probable matchups on day two of the tournament. 

Day One

Michigan Tech vs Western Michigan

Analysis

Our Huskies are matched up against one of the best offenses in the country in the Broncos. Western has had its ups and down this season so far. In the beginning of the season they were off to a hot start after losing their first game to the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (2-12-0, 2-12-0 (0-0) Pairwise). However, after a four game win streak they began to regress to a .500 record, with sweeps against weaker opponents in Bowling Green and Miami, while being swept by hard teams like Michigan. Otherwise, this Western team tended to split the rest of the time, with two underwhelming performances against Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota. 

Looking to their players we see exactly why the Broncos are one of the best offensive teams in the country:

As you can see Western’s McAllister is the current NCAA leader in points, with 33 in just 20 games, which in and of itself is insane to think about since we are only half-way through the season. His supporting cast of linemates have also benefited from his play this season so far, with Polin and Sasson both averaging over a point per game. Comparing the Broncos’ point productions to our Huskies shows just how far behind Tech is in terms of top-end offensive talent. However, there is a skeleton in this Western team’s closet and that is their defense and goaltending. Huskies’ fans might remember Cameron Rowe from last year when he was the goaltender for the Wisconsin Badgers. In fact, the Huskies managed to score six goals against him last year to open up the season. Western’s goaltending situation is probably the weakest in this year’s GLI. Our in-house analytics expert Augie has provided us with a goaltending ranking based on each team’s goalies’ Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAX): 

Above we see that Western’s Rowe is by far the worst of the bunch giving up 1.32 goals more than what is expected of him this season. On the other side our Huskies’ Blake Pietila is saving 15.01 more goals than what is expected this season. This equates to 1.15 goals saved above expected per 60 mins of game play for Pietila while Rowe is at -0.09 goals saved above expected per 60. 

Additionally, Augie has gone all out for this GLI and produced charts for all four teams involved for our InStat Insights™ portion of this preview. Be sure to thank him! 

First is Western’s last series against North Dakota: 

North Dakota managed to hold most of the momentum in game one, but the Broncos were able to come back but ended up losing the game in a shootout. As you can see WMU’s top line saw the most minutes while performing around the 50% for xGs.  

Moving on to game two we find:

Game two was an overall better effort from the Fighting Hawks and we get a glimpse at what happens if you are able to shut down the Western offense. The main weaknesses are WMU’s depth, defense, and goaltending. If Tech can manage to keep these three aspects under control the problem becomes the top line of McAllister, Polin, and Sasson which turns Western into a one dimensional team. 

Speaking of our Huskies, it’s their turn to be under the microscope. Sadly, Tech ended up letting LSSU’s Langenegger look like an NHL ready goaltender in game one. A lot of the shots were low danger and appeared to be mostly center mass of the goalie. I don’t know if Tech’s players forgot that goalies aren’t donut shaped, or if they thought they could just force the puck through Langenegger like they knew something about Quantum Mechanics that the rest of the scientific community doesn’t. Needless to say it didn’t work. I won’t go too far in to our InStat Insights™ since Augie covered the series here, but I will include the shot maps from each game. 

As you can see the shots are there, and some of them had a decent chance from there the shot was taken, but most if not all of the shots regardless of danger ended up in the LSSU crest of Langenegger’s jersey. 

Game two was a whole different story with Tech finding a way to finally hit the back of the net and actually chasing Langenegger out. Looking at our shot map we find:

Even though there are less high danger shots, they managed to get past the LSSU netminder due to better shot quality and net front presence. Additionally, this game saw the Huskies’ depth take over with only one goal coming from their top line. Instead their second and fourth lines lead the charge, netting four of the five Tech goals. 

Hopefully the Huskies have learned their lesson and will be more prepared coming off another extended break with major Pairwise implications resting on this annual tournament.

Keys to the Game

  1. Unstoppable Force vs an Immovable Object. The Huskies’ defense and goaltending are what’s gonna keep them in this game while WMU’s only hope is going to rest on their top-end talent. Tech needs to out grind their opponent to have any chance of success.
  2. Stay out of the box. Western is in the top 10 for power plays this season at 25.3%. Tech currently sits at 8th overall in PK% at 85.3. It would be best to not tempt fate and give the Broncos too many chances to show how they got that percentage. 
  3. Power in numbers. Tech has the better overall depth in my eyes. If they can contain WMU’s top guys then they should be able to take advantage of the rest of the line up or at least manage some offense.

My Prediction

The closed team the Broncos have faced that is similar to Tech in terms of team stats is St. Cloud. The Huskies are similar to one another in goals against, save percentage, and PK%. That series resulted in a split and if these two teams were to play two games I would expect the exact same result. So it’s anyone’s game to win. However, I am leaning towards Tech due to their better defense and hopefully learned a lesson from their series against the Lakers. MTU wins 4-2. 

The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this GLI.

Ferris State vs Michigan State

This series is a bit easier to predict as the Bulldogs are the underdogs to a very promising Spartan team. I won’t be giving a full breakdown like I did for Tech’s game but I will give a few plots and share some thoughts on how this match up might end up. 

First up is the Spartans, since we aren’t as familiar with them as the Bulldogs. To sum them up from a 30,000 feet up perspective they are a B1G version of our Huskies with slightly less better goaltending in graduate student Dylan St. Cyr. He has been very consistent this year with a 11-7-1 record and 2.43 GAA & .925 SV%. With the recent surge from Ferris’ Giesbrecht and Stein I expect this match up to be a very equal match up. 

Looking at the Spartan’s offense we see nine players with double digit points compared to Ferris’ three. The Spartans are more well rounded as well as they don’t have the large discrepancy in point totals from their top player and depth players with freshman Daniel Russell leading with 19 points in 20 games. The Bulldogs are similar, but their totals are very much reduced. 

Looking at our InStat Insights™ for the Spartans we see (note: stats for the Michigan-Michigan State game on December 9 weren’t available so it has been substituted with game one of MSU’s Minnesota series): 

As seen above the Spartans are able to keep up with a team like Michigan but fall short when against a top end team like Minnesota. This Spartan team is a lot like the Huskies, but with better depth and worse goaltending. Meaning the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them. 

Speaking of the Bulldogs, they have had a lot better luck in recent weeks as head play-by-play commentator Harrison Watt describes them as  “Agents of Chaos.” They managed to sweep the Minnesota State Mavericks on the road, while also splitting with Northern and St. Thomas the weeks after. They are finally figuring it all out after an up and down first half of the season. The main standouts have been both of their netminders. Both have been the bright points to their season and are cementing themselves and this Ferris State team in the progress they have been making in rebuilding towards their 2015-16 NCAA tournament run. 

Looking at our InStat Insights™ (last time, I promise) for the Bulldogs we see:

Against a much more competitive St. Thomas’ team this season, the Bulldogs were able to play a competitive game two while failing to do much of anything in game one, falling drastically behind after the five minute mark in the first period. If Ferris is able to compete against the Spartans I would expect a similar xG chart to game two, with both teams trading blows throughout the night. I am expecting a fun game two for Huskies fans to watch and due to my Spartan Alumni partner I will reluctantly be cheering for B1G victory. MSU wins 3-1.

Day Two

I will be doing a lightning round and giving some quick and dirty predictions. 

Possible match ups. 

Michigan Tech vs Michigan State

The Huskies are favored in defense and goaltending while the Spartans have the better offense depth. If as a Tech fan I have to go with our Huskies. MTU wins 3-2. 

Michigan Tech vs Ferris State

The Huskies are the favorites, but need to recognize this Ferris team is better than they expect. I think Tech is looking for revenge for how October’s matchup went and will take the win because of it. MTU wins 4-1. 

Western Michigan vs Michigan State

This game is the biggest toss up since Western was swept by Michigan while the Spartans managed a split with the Wolverines. State is a more well rounded team and as a result I am picking them. MSU wins 3-1. 

Western Michigan vs Ferris State

Ferris is the underdogs in this matchup, and to be honest I think Western’s offense will too much to handle. Their netminders can stand on their heads but that is the only hope they have at taking a win. WMU wins 5-2. 

Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.

InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge.

How to Watch

Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Day one Game 1 will be Tuesday at 3:30 EST (featuring Dirk Hembroff) while game 2 will be at 7:00 EST (featuring Harrison Watt). Day two’s third place game will be Wednesday at 3:30 EST with the first place game being 7:00 EST.

*Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in CCHA buildings this season so don’t be afraid to sign up for a month or the year. Flo Sports now has apps for iOS, Android (with Chromecast support), Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.