The Bulldogs took to the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids to face off against the nationally-ranked Michigan State Spartans and the nationally-ranked Western Michigan Broncos in the Great Lakes Invitational tournament.
The Bulldogs (9-9-2 overall, 6-5-1 in CCHA) began the tournament with a 4-2 win over the #11 ranked Spartans (12-9-1 overall, 6-5-1 in Big Ten) before an 8-2 loss to the #18 ranked Broncos (12-9-1 overall, 4-5-1 in NCHC) in the GLI championship game.
In the game against Michigan State, the Bulldogs scored three goals in the first period. Early in the period, freshman forward Tyler Schleppe capitalized on a powerplay opportunity and put the Bulldogs in front. Within the last minute of play, freshman forward Connor McGrath skated in on a breakaway and scored, bringing the lead to 2-0. Then, junior forward Mitch Deelstra scored in the closing seconds and brought the Bulldogs up to a 3-0 lead.
The Spartans were able to crack sophomore goaltender Noah Giesbrecht late in the second period with a shorthanded goal, which made the game 3-1 in favor of the Bulldogs. Following the shorthanded goal, and with a couple of minutes left in the middle frame, the Spartans beat Giesbrecht again and brought the score up to 3-2.
Senior forward Jason Brancheau helped calm any fears of a Spartan comeback with another powerplay goal in the third to make the game 4-2 in favor of the Bulldogs.
“That was a big win for us and a big win for the program,” head coach Bob Daniels said. “We were opportunistic early and scored on our chances. Even though, territorially, I thought Michigan State had the play in the first, we were able to capitalize.”
Daniels was pleased with how the Bulldogs were able to “buckle down” following Michigan State’s two goals. The last time the Bulldogs played Michigan State, they gave up their 3-0 lead in the second and third period and lost 4-3.
Junior forward Antonio Venuto commented on the memory of last years’ loss to the Spartans.
“A couple guys were talking about it, but we knew we owed them one,” Venuto said.
Giesbrecht made 45 saves in the win against the Spartans, a season-high. This is the second-most saves he has recorded while playing for the Bulldogs.
With their win over the Spartans, the Bulldogs advanced to the GLI championship game for the first time in program history for a rematch against the Broncos. The Bulldogs played the Broncos earlier in the season in a 6-4 loss at home.
The Broncos jumped to a 1-0 lead halfway through the first period and put the Bulldogs at a disadvantage. A minute later, sophomore forward Kaleb Ergang skated in on Broncos goaltender Cameron Rowe to net the equalizer for a 1-1 game. With less than two minutes to go in the first, the Broncos got their second goal of the night and brought the score to 2-1, putting the Bulldogs behind, again.
The second period turned into a nightmare for the Bulldogs as they allowed the Broncos to score three goals, one of which resulted in Jason Polin’s fifth hat trick of the season—and second in as many nights—to make the score 5-1 in favor of the Broncos. It was at this point that the Bulldogs opted for a change at goalie, bringing in Giesbrecht for his second game of the tournament.
Despite this change, the Bulldogs could not stop the Bronco’s momentum, and Giesbrecht quickly ceded a goal, which increased the Bronco’s lead to 6-1. The Bulldogs managed to get a small measure of revenge with a goal from Deelstra for a 6-2 game. All hopes for a massive Bulldog comeback were dashed even further halfway through the third period when the Broncos scored a seventh and eighth goal, securing the game as a six goal blowout and a loss in the GLI championship for the Bulldogs.
The eight goals scored against the Bulldogs in this game are the most goals the Bulldogs have given up all season and the most goals they have given up since an 8-2 loss against Western Michigan on Nov. 9, 2019. Despite the big loss, Daniels was still positive about the Bulldogs’ performance.
“I thought we played very well in the first, and I know we had some good looks and some good opportunities,” Daniels said. “The Western Michigan goaltender played very well.”
At the end of the tournament, six players were named to the All-Tournament team. A goaltender, two defenseman and three forwards were selected to make up the All-Tournament team. Among those named was Deelstra. Deelstra described the selection as a “great feeling” while also being a “little bit surprising.”
The Bulldogs are set to begin their remaining stretch of 14 regular season games on Jan. 13, 2023 when they go on the road to play the Lake Superior State Lakers.