Ferris State hockey hopes to put on a show at the Great Lakes Invitational

BIG RAPIDS — As far as holiday tournaments go, the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) is considered one of the most prestigious tournaments in college hockey.

The GLI is celebrating its 50 anniversary this season and Ferris State will be making its first appearance in program history this Sunday and Monday as part of the four-team field including Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech at Joe Louis Arena.

COMING IN HOT: Ferris State’s Jared VanWormer (17)  flips the puck toward the net during a game earlier this season. The Bulldogs will be competing in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the first time in program history on Sunday and Monday, opening the tournament against Michigan State on Sunday. (Pioneer file photo)

COMING IN HOT: Ferris State’s Jared VanWormer (17) flips the puck toward the net during a game earlier this season. The Bulldogs will be competing in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the first time in program history on Sunday and Monday, opening the tournament against Michigan State on Sunday. (Pioneer file photo)

The Bulldogs (9-7-1, 6-4-0 WCHA) will play the Spartans (6-9-1, 1-2-1 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. on Sunday and the winner of that contest will play the victor of Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. game between the Wolverines (8-7-0, 2-1-0 Big Ten) and the Huskies (13-3-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) on Monday in the first-place game while the losing teams will battle in the third-place game.

“It’s a big deal for us, that’s no question,” FSU head coach Bob Daniels said. “We’re taking it as a big deal and it’s important for us to do well on a couple of fronts. One, just because it’s our first trip to Joe Louis and we’d like to put best foot forward and play well there. No. 2, it’s a national stage given the prestige of the tournament so we want to do well because of that. Finally, the third reason is it will be a good springboard into the second half of the year.

“It’s a way to hopefully get us off and running on the right foot,” he continued.

Ferris State comes into the tournament with some momentum on its side after claiming its second sweep of the season with a pair of victories over Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) foe Lake Superior State on Dec. 12-13, coming away with a 5-2 win in the series opener and a 5-0 shutout in the finale.

“It was a much needed sweep,” Daniels said. “The fact that we did it short handed with a lot of guys out of the lineup, although I believe the Lakers had a few guys out as well and it’s that time of year for everybody, but nevertheless for us to be able to do it shorthanded and with some authority was a real positive.”

After dealing with a slew of injuries and illnesses, Daniels said the Bulldogs look to be coming into the GLI will a mostly clean bill of health, noting that sophomore forward Chad McDonald, who’s tied for second on the team in points (8 G, 4 A), is currently on track to return from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the series with the Lakers.

While the Bulldogs are getting some offensive firepower back, Daniels said he expects Saturday’s game with the Spartans to unfold much like the two-game series the two teams played on Oct. 31-Nov.1, with FSU recording a 1-0 win in the first game and the Spartans claiming a 4-1 victory in the finale of a defensive-minded series.

For the other teams in the field, the Bulldogs have faced the Wolverines once this season with a 4-3 victory on Oct. 4 to open the season and suffered a pair of losses to the Huskies on Oct. 24-25, falling 1-0 and 2-1 to a Michigan Tech team that is currently ranked fifth in the USCHO.com Division I Top 20 Poll.

“I think the game will probably be very similar to those two games,” Daniels said. “In order words, pretty low-scoring affairs. Both teams are strong defensively and both have very good goaltending, so it’s not like either team is probably going to give up a lot of goals.

“For us, it’s not so much what we saw that weekend against Michigan State as much as it’s what we see in ourselves and the things we have to continue to work to improve upon,” he continued. “But we’ve got to play well defensively because they’re not going to give up a lot and their goaltending is not going to give up a lot.”

The other factor Daniels pointed to as a possible deciding factor in Saturday’s contest is the amount of time off both teams have had, with FSU last playing on Dec. 13 and MSU last hosting Clarkson on Dec. 14.

“Those games tend to be sloppy and the first team that can kind of get themselves grounded in good hockey generally wins,” he said. “It reminds me a lot of the opening weekends where it’s a little bit of fire wagon hockey. Everyone is just off about five percent.

“If we can get ourselves back to playing a structured game quickly, then we’ll have a good chance to be successful.”

Tickets are still available for the GLI through www.olympiaentertainment.com or at the Joe Louis Arena box office.

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