The Great Lakes Invitational tournament began in 1965 with Michigan Tech as the host team. The Huskies were the only Michigan-based team that participated that year. At least three of the four teams that have participated each year since the 1979 tournament have been Michigan-based Division I men’s teams. The champion is awarded the MacInnes Cup.
The 2013 edition of the tournament was unique in that it took place outdoors at Comerica Park in Detroit. It was held the final weekend in December and included four Michigan teams: Michigan Tech, Western Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State. This was the third time this grouping of teams had faced off against one another in the tournament. However, it was the first time this tournament was played outdoors.
This 49th edition of the tournament was included as part of the festivities around the 2014 NHL Winter Classic that took place on New Year’s Day. In that game, the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout at Michigan Stadium. The NHL game at Michigan Stadium was originally scheduled to occur the previous year – along with an outdoor Great Lakes Invitational tournament – but everything was pushed back due to the 2012 NHL lockout that season.
The first game of the 2013 Great Lakes Invitational was between Michigan State and Michigan Tech. The announced crowd was more than 25,000 on December 27. The Spartans came into the game with a 5-9-1 record in the first year of Big Ten Hockey. Michigan Tech had already swept the Spartans in Houghton, Michigan, the previous month. The Huskies also had a losing record of 6-9-5 in the new-look WCHA. Michigan State scored two early goals in the third period to go up 2-1. But Alex Petan of Michigan Tech scored the equalizer 8:13 into the period and that’s how it remained until the end of regulation. A shootout was needed to determine which team would advance to the tournament championship the following day. Michigan Tech’s Ryan Furne scored the shootout winner in the fifth round to send the team to the championship.
The second game of the Day 1 was between Michigan and Western Michigan. Sitting at a 10-2-2 record, the Wolverines were the favorite to win the tournament. Western Michigan sported a 7-8-3 record and represented the brand-new NCHC conference. The Broncos were the runner-up in the previous year’s Great Lakes Invitational. The two teams had yet to face one another that season prior to the tournament. The Wolverines got on the board first with a shorthanded goal by JT Compher in the second period. But the Broncos bounced back and scored two of their own before the second frame was over. The Wolverines tied the score in the third and that’s how it remained at the end of regulation. With just nineteen seconds left in overtime, Josh Pitt scored the game winner for Western Michigan to send the Broncos to the title game.
The MacInnes Cup would be awarded to either Michigan Tech or Western Michigan on December 28. But first the consolation game would be played between Michigan and Michigan State. The two rivals had yet to play that season. The Spartans surprised the college hockey world by shutting out Michigan 3-0. With many people picking Michigan to win the tournament, the team ended up in 4th place out of four teams.
More than 26,000 fans were in attendance to see which team would be the first to hoist the MacInnes Cup outdoors. It was a rematch of the previous year’s Great Lakes Invitational championship game that saw the Huskies blank the Broncos 4-0. In this rematch, the teams were evenly matched and both had great scoring chances. At one point in the second period Daniel Holmberg of Michigan Tech hit the cross bar for no goal. By the end of the game, shots were 33-31 in favor of Michigan Tech yet no goals had been scored. The game would be decided in overtime. It only took two minutes and one second for Justin Kovacs to score the game-winning goal. It was the second time the Broncos won the Great Lakes Invitational and first time since 1986.
The same four teams will participate in this year’s Great Lakes Invitational. It will be the fifth time this grouping of teams will participate in the tournament (with the fourth being in 2016.) However, it will be a showcase tournament with games being held at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing and Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The first two games will be held December 29 when Michigan State will host Western Michigan and Michigan will host Michigan Tech. The two visiting teams are scheduled to swap ice arenas the following night with Michigan State hosting Michigan Tech on Saturday and Michigan hosting Western Michigan. Unfortunately, Michigan announced December 27 that the team is cancelling the game on Saturday against Western Michigan. The official release stated health and welfare protocols but it sounds like it is not due to COVID but instead to prevent wear and tear on a roster that is missing five players to the IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada. This tournament will look different than previous iterations and no champion will be crowned for the second year in a row since last year’s tournament was canceled due to COVID. But the bright spot is that college hockey will be showcased again this holiday season in the state of Michigan.