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December 30, 2012
As Western Michigan prepares to take on Michigan Tech in tonight's championship of the 48th Great Lakes Invitational, it's looking like the biggest prize on the line is bragging rights.
Certainly beating Michigan Tech (or this year's Michigan and Michigan State teams, for that matter) won't likely be a marquee non-conference win when it comes time to watch the PairWise rankings for the NCAA tournament.
But that didn't make the moment any less sweet for Western Michigan fans when Mike Leone's shootout goal hit the back of the net to send the Broncos to the championship game tonight at 7:00pm.
What this tournament represents is a chance for WMU to establish some superiority over a couple of the much-maligned programs who fractured the CCHA and WCHA with the announcement of the six-team Big Ten conference starting play next season. No, the Broncos won't play Michigan tonight as some fans had hoped, but hanging the GLI banner at Joe Louis Arena would essentially be a win over the Wolverines.
The fact that these teams are all in-state rivals only deepens the importance of the games, as WMU tries to solidify their place in the Michigan college hockey pecking order going forward. The demise of the CCHA means that the status of the Broncos' series with Michigan and MSU is up in the air, and so each game with the long-time CCHA rivals takes on a whole new meaning.
Currently, the Broncos have a complete stranglehold on the top spot among Michigan schools. While WMU has occupied a top ten spot in national polls all season, only Ferris State at 19th makes the cut from the rest of the state in the most recent USCHO.com poll.
As for tonight's game, the Broncos have to like their chances against a Michigan Tech team that has struggled for most of the year, though the Huskies looked much improved in a 4-0 win over a similarly struggling Michigan team Saturday evening.
Tech comes in with a 5-10-3 mark, including a seven game winless run (0-4-3) prior to Saturday's win. While the Huskies have been middle of the pack nationally with 2.72 goals per game, their 3.5 given up puts them at a putrid 54th in the country.
Much of the problem has revolved around goaltending, as senior Kevin Genoe has posted a 3.28 GAA on a mediocre .902 save percentage. It's likely, though, that WMU will see Phoenix Copley tonight, as the freshman defied odds to post a 38 save shutout of the Wolverines last night.
Even after the shutout, Copley's save percentage stands at just .877 with a 3.75 GAA on the year.
Tech is led by Alex Petan, Jujhar Khaira and David Johnstone with 15 points each. Petan tallied twice and Khaira put up three points against the Wolverines. Tech will be looking for their tenth GLI title overall, and first since 1980.
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