Broncos skate off with GLI in ‘extra innings’
DETROIT – It is perhaps fitting that the Great Lakes Invitational championship game at Comerica Park Saturday came down to the hockey equivalent of a classic pitchers’ duel.
Unfortunately for Michigan Tech, in this scenario goaltender Pheonix Copley played the part Justin Verlander in Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS, while Western Michigan netminder Lukas Hafner’s performance reminded fans of the shutdown efforts from Red Sox hurlers John Lackey and Koji Uehara.
Copley was fantastic. But Hafner was perfect.
The Broncos avenged a loss in the championship of last year’s GLI with a 1-0 win Saturday night, getting a garbage goal from forward Justin Kovacs two minutes into overtime to send the Huskies home runners-up.
“(Copley) made it look easy,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “You can’t put it on him. He gave us every chance to win. And he made it look easy. I feel bad for him, because the last goal, I don’t even know how it went in the net. Just a bad break, a bad bounce.”
Through 60 minutes, Copley and Hafner matched each other save for save, with both sophomores blanking multiple grade-A chances to keep their team in the game.
The save totals ended at 30 for Copley and 33 for Hafner, with the Huskies creating 10 good scoring chances and the Broncos nine.
“Copley was rock solid for us, he gave us a very good chance to win,” Petan said.
“It is a fine line between winning and losing, and we just didn’t get the bounce we needed tonight.”
“Pheonix played a great game tonight, he is a great goaltender,” Hafner added.
If the goalies were fitting the roles of shutdown pitchers, than the game-winning goal was the equivalent of a blooped single in no-mans land.
Broncos forward Shane Berschbach sent a puck bouncing off the back board and it fell to the stick of Kovacs amidst a swarm of skaters.
Kovacs somehow flipped a backhand through the traffic and it found a hole and went in.
There was a half-second delay to the celebration as neither team was quite sure what just happened.
“I just went to the net and chipped it in,” Kovacs said. “It trickled in, thank God.”
“It has kind of been the story all year,” Petan added. “A couple bounces. We just really need to bear down. The ice was bad, and it just didn’t go in for us tonight.”
The Huskies had their chances to end it in regulation.
C.J. Eick, Daniel Holmberg and Mike Neville were all denied at the doorstep in the second and third period.
Most crucially, a late breakaway in the third period saw Blake Pietila clean on goal with a chance to play hero near his hometown of Brighton.
Pietila made a move and went to his backhand, but didn’t get the lift on the shot he needed and Hafner turned the junior captain away with a sprawling kick-save.
“If I had the answer I guess we would be scoring a lot more,” Pearson said. “It is a bounce here or a bounce there. We have been creating some good scoring opportunities – tonight both teams had great chances.”
Tech was gifted one more chance when the Broncos took a penalty with less than three minutes to play in regulation for too many men on the ice.
The ensuing power play generated little though – a couple of shots from the blue line that didn’t find the target – and the Huskies skated into the fateful OT.
“We have to get our power play going,” Pearson said. “There are some issues but we are working on them.”
It was the first time the Huskies participated in back-to-back GLI finals since 1980.
“This is a step in the right direction for the program,” Copley said.