It was loud. It was dramatic. It was legendary. It was historic.
It was the weekend Jed Ortmeyer achieved greatness. It was the weekend a mascot was ejected. It was the weekend Ron Mason coached his last game, and Ryan Miller played his last game. It was the weekend the CCHA Humanitarian of the Year almost murdered a dog. It was the weekend Denver stole Michigan’s locker room. It was the weekend the NCAA reconsidered its regional hosting policy.
It was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life. And incredibly, it was ten years ago this Friday.
You wouldn’t have expected this if you watched the first game. Ron Mason’s Spartan squad played so lifelessly against Colorado College that they forgot to even pull the goaltender (Michigan arch-nemesis Ryan Miller) until it was too late. I was preparing for a standard, slightly-louder-than normal playoff game against St. Cloud when I heard it: the chant that irrevocably signaled that the weekend would be among the most memorable in Michigan history.
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
On March 22 and 23, 2002, the six-team NCAA Hockey West Regional came to Yost Ice Arena. The teams were Denver, Minnesota, Michigan State, Michigan, Saint Cloud State, and Colorado College. The two days of hockey that those teams produced comprised the greatest weekend in the history of Yost. You can find the results in a database, and the results will tell you that Minnesota beat Colorado College and that Michigan beat Denver to advance to the Frozen Four. Those were the results.
This is the story.
The Molly Game: Yost at its Craziest
Some solid write-ups on the Molly Game can be found elsewhere, for those interested.
Michigan was a four seed drawn to play St. Cloud State as a 5 seed, a rematch of the West Regional final from the year before in Grand Rapids. Early pregame talk about the game surrounded St. Cloud’s inability to win in the NCAA tournament (the program didn’t win a game until 2010) and Michigan’s presumed home-ice advantage.
The conversation changed when the Michigan Daily picked up a quote from SCSU on-ice cheerleader Molly McGannon, who told the St. Cloud Times that she was treated poorly by Michigan fans in Grand Rapids. Her quotes spread all over town. “They’re horrible people,” she said. She further predicted that, on Michigan’s home ice, “They’ll be worse.”
She was right.
The initial team warmups were a normal affair, but as soon as the Michigan team left the ice and the band had concluded its pregame rendition of “The Victors,” the two sections reserved for Michigan students erupted in loud “WE WANT MOLLY!” chants. When Saint Cloud cheerleaders and the Husky mascot, Blizzard, emerged from the entrance behind the north goal, the noise became a roar.
As the cheerleaders performed their standard pregame routine of skating around in circles and waving pom-poms, the students showered them with catcalls and insults. It was loud, menacing, and for the husky mascot, infuriating. The routine ended as the Saint Cloud players took the ice from the north endzone; the students began waving and howling “Ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh” expecting them to depart promptly. They did not understand that the cheer team procedure involved remaining on the ice almost until faceoff; following their exit, cheerleaders traditionally entered the grandstands for the hockey action during the period.
The cheerleaders would not be entering the stands at Yost.
Michigan took the ice and began its customary counter-clockwise warmup skate. Star defenseman Mike Komisarek noticed that two cheerleaders were standing in formation on Michigan’s half of center-ice, and as he skated around he very deliberately lowered his stick and tapped the back of the girl’s skates, nearly causing her to fall. After “The Victors” concluded students resumed taunting the cheer team, whose members were now so psychologically shattered that they could only exchange terrified glances at each other.
During player introductions the cheerleaders continued to be jeered on the ice, occasionally interrupted by the introduction of players. When each Michigan player was introduced, the mascot would skate up to them and take fake-swings at their heads with his hockey stick while spewing taunts. He was not being ironic.
Following introductions, the cheerleaders finally left the ice to a muffled C-YA chant as the teams huddled around their respective goals. The Husky, however, refused to leave, and a linesman eventually had to corral him and physically escort him to the north exit, behind the goal Michigan was huddled around.
That’s when the mascot speared defenseman Brandon Rogers.
And that was when backup goaltender Kevin O’Malley, who was named CCHA Humanitarian of the Year just the week before, launched himself toward the exit. He went fully airborne, blasted straight through the linesman, and attacked the mascot just inside the door. It was total chaos.
Then the actual game started.
It was a good one; Michigan charged to a 3-1 lead in an electric first period, chasing Husky goalie Dean Weasler. Enigmatic freshman winger Milan Gajic scored the goal of his life, a behind-the-back spin-pass to himself behind the goal followed by a gliding skate out front and a roofed shot. But the moment everyone remembers was this one, perhaps the best hit in Michigan history, served by the peerless Jed Ortmeyer.
St. Cloud crept back into the game, trailing only 3-2 in the third, but star forward Mark Hartigan missed a wide-open net after deking past Josh Blackburn. St. Cloud could not recover, and Michigan won 4-2.
It was time for Michigan to play #1 seed Denver.
The Denver Game: Yost at its Loudest.
Michigan’s new locker room, still a sparkling part of the facility, was much nicer than the other three locker rooms available for regional competitors. In the week leading up to Regionals, Denver made a stink about this and Michigan was ordered to vacate its locker room and allow top seed Denver to use it.
After the game, Red Berenson said, “Maybe they shouldn’t have taken our locker room away.”
This game doesn’t get the legendary treatment of the game the day before, but it was my favorite part of the weekend and one of the best sporting events I have ever witnessed. Many fans who were there say that it was the loudest they’ve ever heard Yost Arena; the only game that comes close was the ’98 regional game against North Dakota.
It was a wonderful game. That ’02 Denver team was terrific, and they played a defensive, checking style very similar to the MSU teams of the era. Goalie Wade Dubielewicz was a dominant player, and after their WCHA title many favored them to win the national title.
After a scoreless first period the teams traded five goals in the second. Michigan seemed to be in good shape up 2-1 until Mike Komisarek attempted to kill a penalty by grabbing the puck and throwing it 150 feet down the ice; the resulting 5-on-3 allowed Denver to tie the game, and they took a 3-2 lead a short time later.
Denver never gave away third period leads--they were 28-1 when leading after two. The crowd was nervous, or at least subdued; I was terrified. This was it, the season on the line, needing a goal against an impenetrable team.
Eric Werner tied the game 4:47 into the period. The crowd was back. Raucous “Go! Blue!” chants traded sides. Every hit was cheered, every shot exhorted. Michigan took control of play, but as the clock ticked down overtime seemed certain.
Jed Ortmeyer did not come to Michigan as an exceptional offensive talent, and NHL scouts never drooled over his physical attributes. He had the face of a teddy bear. There were always players on Michigan who were more imposing, players who were better skilled. But Ortmeyer was a remarkable leader and a tireless worker. And he lived for these moments.
With less than two minutes left, Mike Cammalleri fed him the puck in the neutral zone...
(Look closely for the Michigan player who pulls the net off its moorings to allow the rest of the team to pile on top of Ortmeyer. Red trains smart players.)
Ortmeyer’s goal blew the place up. I’ve attended UM-OSU football games at both venues; I’ve been to games at Texas A&M and LSU; I’ve been to Red Wing playoff games; but I’ve never been in a place like that. The audio on the recording simply does not convey how ear-bleedingly loud Yost was. The Denver players couldn’t look away from the crowd--they were beaten, it was over, and they knew it.
Often forgotten, the officials stopped the game for ten minutes to deal with a timekeeping problem. The crowd roared unceasingly throughout the stoppage. When retiring rink announcer Glenn Williams gave his celebratory “You’re Welcome!” to the students, they went nuts. When Eric Nystrom flipped a puck from center ice into the open net, the place went bonkers again.
At the conclusion of the game, after the handshakes, Ortmeyer organized an improptu fan salute, before it was a regular procedure. The players gathered in the center circle and faced outward, grins on their faces, and raised their sticks in the air. The crowd gave one last, deafening cheer. Triumph.
Thanks for the awesomely tremendous write-up, it gave me chills. I was in the hockey band during that 'era', and they are truly some of the greatest memories of my undergrad years. Thanks for refreshing the details for me.
"I recently heard from fans and friends that Michigan will be great again one day. In my opinion, Michigan never stopped being great." --Zac Ciullo
Thanks for the memories. I would concur with your assessment of Yost at its loudest during the Denver game. I think this was the weekend I fell in love with Hockey Christmas, because there are few things better or more awesome in sports.
I have a still photo of the aftermath that my friend took on her camera framed on my work desk. It's of the melee with O'Malley pinning the mascot up against the glass and trying to pull the jersey over his head. I remember thinking as soon as I saw OMalley sprint skate over that this was going to be a real life "SlapShot" moment. That was the year after Bob Gassoff graduated... my friend and I just looked at each other said how much more awesome that would have been had Gassoff been on the team. We both agreed he would have taken his skate off and tried to gut the mascot with a rusty blade.
"So I come out of Ohio Stadium after we beat the Buckeyes, and right there on the hood of my friend's car, some one took a dump, in the shape of an 'O'. no shit. Oh, sorry, bad pun."
I can't believe there isn't video of the pregame portion of the St. Cloud State game. I know my digital camera at the time had a no-audio video mode and if you even had a cellphone, it likely didn't shoot video, but someone must have booth video of that event.
It really is my fondest memory of Yost and was glad to be a part of it (and part of the horrible, unwelcoming band in GR the previous year)!
To me, the lack of video has only made this more epic. I'm sure that when the video finally surfaces, I'll be disappointed because my recollection is so vivid and almost certainly exaggerated.
There was a camera in the net and for a long time, my desktop background was of Dubliewicz sprawling to his left, just as the puck slides under his wrist.
The effect of this series was strong enough that nine years later, I drug my roommate to an Aero's playoff game (it ended up being the deciding game of the Calder Cup, but we didn't know that when we bought the tickets) just because Jed Ortmeyer was playing.
I was nine years old, and these were the first two games that I really remmebered at Yost. I can say without a doubt it is the reason that I love Michigan hockey above any other team.
I have never been to a sporting event that can compare to the intensity and uniqueness of those two games. The mascot event was crazy, but that Denver game was the loudest place I have ever been, particularly during the 10 min interuption for the time keeping. It was near constant screaming almost the entire time.
I wish we could go back to the days with regionals, and even the Frozen Four itself, were at campus sites. Though no place can compare to Yost, I'm sure regional events at places like BC and North Dakota were also a special thing to see.
I had season tickets for hockey all 4 years but couldn't pull together the money to come up with tickets for this one so I watched it with friends at a house on campus. It was an epic weekend for sure.
After the game I mortgaged all I had (including using a connection in the Athletic Department to get tickets and stole my parents van) for the long journey to St. Paul. We lost to a Minnesota team that I still feel we were better than, sold our tickets to the final after the game and drove back that same night. Ugh. So much talent my 4 years (99-03) on the hockey team including 3 trips to the Frozen Four, only to come up empty every time.
Thanks for bringing back some great memories Brian.
Also, the student section was holding up dollar bills the entire time the ice dancers were performing. I'll never forget the looks on their faces.
Also not to be undersold, the 2003 regional at Yost which we beat Maine and CC back to back. The only problem was because of the prior year they stuck the student section at the South end of Yost for the regional.
Yeah, I was at that one. My friends and I had season tickets starting in 2002 and we went to the 2003 regional and if I remember correctly, we helped Wayne State give CC a little bit of trouble because the crowd was so clearly in favor of WSU.
These are the stories I tell people they must go see a game at Yost if they consider themselves a sports fan.
Re: My Avatar - It's Guy Gardner. If you're a nerd like me, you'll get it.
YES. A friend and I (who had season tickets, but were broke) watched that game on TV. And it was AMAZING. By the end of the game we talked ourselves into buying tickets for the CC game, and it was totally worth it.
It was epic. Since I somehow managed to miss the 2002 regional, 2003 ranks as my best experience at Yost. The CC game, in particular, was ear-splittingly loud. And the students' loss was my gain -- I had great seats to the 2003 games where the students ordinarily would have been.
Stephenrjking has been here only a short while but been a really good poster. So far, he has been a model for how to begin as a poster and really contribute. We need more new posters around here like him than people promising commits on Mondays.
Props to Stephenrjking, look forward to reading from you in the future.
It's a subject worthy of debate, though I didn't really have the space to get into that in the article. The North Dakota game was, obviously, incredible. And that team won the national championship, which definitely brings positive points. However, in my mind the MSU-OSU game is at least partly cancelled out by MSU's loss in '02, which ended the careers of Mason and Miller. The North Dakota game might have an edge on the Denver game, too.
The first day of that regional, though, loses the argument. Michigan scraped by an inferior Princeton team on a fluke goal, and OSU's 4-0 victory over Yale has no relevance at all. Meanwhile the first day of the '02 regional had the Molly game, an event unlike any other I have ever see in American sports. The combination of the Molly Game and the Denver game are what, in my mind, puts this weekend over the top.
But that does not diminish how awesome that Matt Herr goal was.
Servant. Pastor. Husband. Michigan fan in Duluth. Mostly non-sports twitter @stephenrjking
Great write-up. I read this on the app and logged in just to upvote it -- so kudos to the mods for the good sense to front page it. I returned to Yost for my first game there in 20 years or so last month, and was reminded why it just might be the best venue in all of sports. (also up there: Penn's Palestra, but the M hockey >> Penn bball)
I'm going to get negged to hell on this, but I don't care. That weekend was one of the last truly great Yost crowds. Maybe the last one, honestly. I can think of only a handful of games since that compared. St. Patrick's Day '08. FYS night. The game when Jack Johnson broke the BC goalie's mask with a slapshot. Maybe that Notre Dame game when Louie scored with like 10 seconds left. Yet they all pale to that regional.
Yet when you think back to what Yost was in the mid to late 90s, and to a certain degree through the early 00's, it isn't what it used to be. The fallout from that '02 Regional really put a damper on a lot of what the students would (and could) do, culminating in the unfortunate '04-5 season, when ushers were patrolling the aisles looking for students to kick out during the CYA cheer. Those seasons when there were notes on the seats, the focus group meetings, the surveys, the newspaper articles, the threats, using the band to muzzle the students, and ultimately, the students had to give in. And the rest of the arena followed suit. It's never really been the same.
Oh, I agree -- there were a couple seasons where the ushers were overly vigilant. And they kept moving around the student section, and the sightlines were such that if the students stood they were blocking some non-students who were seated, and they would yell at us to sit down. Argh.
At the same time, I do not at all regret that 'cocksucker' is not really part of the c-ya chant anymore.
Let's see, I graduated (-ish, it was grad school) in Fall 2007, at which point it was, "chump, dick, wuss, douuuchebag, asshole, prick, cheater, bitch, WHOOOOORE, slut, cocksucker". Although maybe by then 'cocksucker' only showed up during really egregious penalties.
Again, I really dislike 'cocksucker' as an insult (as well as whore and slut), but I can't argue with how well it resonated.
my buddy josh was solely responsible for the 'bitch' portion of the cheer. I was either 99 or 00 and we had two tickets in the back row that we shared with like 8 guys (friends of ours lived accross from the stadium on State St.) and we would have two guys walk in, one walk out with a ticket, grab another guy, two guys walk in, one guy comes out with two tickets, again and again and again. It was awesome...
If we could somehow get another regional at Yost (which, sadly, doesn't look like it'll happen), I think the crowd could be that great again. Those weekends featured good teams playing single-elimination games at a great (and packed) venue -- I don't believe there's anything wrong with the current Yost crowd that those conditions couldn't cure.
Won't happen. Not only has the NCAA pretty much put the hammer down on campus sites, the newest round of renovations will decrease total capacity. With NCAA minimum seating requirements for hosting a regional hovering just above what Yost seats right now, Yost will be totally off the table if the NCAA were to look at on-campus options again.
And it's a total sham, as the last sets of renovations did everything to fit the previous regional requirements (facility upgrades, media, number of locker rooms, etc.). The NCAA insists on having non-campus sites that seat far more people than any non-campus regional would ever attract, and for Michigan and Michigan State, with JLA a site that will never be considered to host (from both the NCAA and JLA sides of the equation), we'll never have an in-state regional that isn't in Grand Rapids. Gee, thanks. Broken system, misguided values, etc. etc.
probably the most fun i've ever had at a michigan sports event, and i've been going to stuff for nigh on 40 years. the "we want molly" chant - which even us old guys participated in - makes me tear up with laughter to this day.
agreed with the above poster - i'm glad there doesn't seem to be video of the mascotting - it couldn't possibly live up to my memory of it...although jed's hit DID, so you never know.
really miss the atmosphere of the home regional days - i'd even prefer being a road team somewhere and being in an electric building compared to the sanitized neutral site crapola we see nowadays.
Having sat on the other side of the coin on a home-ice regional, Grand Forks '06, I can say that it sucks. But it's still a hell of a lot more fun than watching hockey with 25 of your best friends and the Clarkson band in Albany or picking a section of your very own in Fort Wayne.
And as much as that NoDak game sucked in Grand Forks, whatever awful memories I have of that game are drowned out by how awesome it was seeing NoDak fans yell their brains out to will a half-sized, out-talented, gutsy lowest-4 seed Holy Cross team to the greatest performance I've ever seen in a tournament hockey game. Those guys were getting thrown around like rag dolls, but stick with Minnesota, took it to OT, and the rest is history:
I was doing color for student radio that weekend, and the press box actually shook- it rocked back and forth about 6"- when we scored the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period on Saturday night. I had never seen it shake at all before then at Yost, and it was (and is) the only time I've ever been in a stadium and wondered about its structural integrity. I also got a picture with Molly and the rest of the St. Cloud ice girls, though I don't have it (it was put on a poster at WCBN). Until UM-ND 2011, the 2002 regional was, hands-down, the best sporting event I'd ever attended. Kudos for the great recap.
1998 West Regional was by far the loudest stadium I have ever been in. Between Ohio State getting revenge in overtime for their loss to Michigan State in the CCHA Title Game against the Spartans followed by Michigan facing overwhelming favorite and defending national champion North Dakota. It started out bad, but by the start of the 3rd, Michigan tied it and eventually took the lead with under 5 to go...and the building was absolutely shaking. My ears were ringing and I had a headache...but I never stopped jumping up and down. That game was my first time at Yost, and I will never forget it.
I think those two weekends will end up 1A and 1B in Yost history...I would have given alot to be at that 02 regional...it is an event on my "If I ever get a time machine" list.
My favorite detail about this will always be that O'Malley was the CCHA Humanitarian Award winner. I don't know why, but when I tell the story (not that I was there, but whatever), that's the part where I have to stop because I'm crying with laughter.
I watched that game with Pea-Tear Gryphon and some others out in CA (Sharkeez in Manhattan Beach maybe?). After the 2nd period some mouth breather that was rooting for Denver just to be different walked over to our table, said something along the line of "too bad you guys had to lose", and stands there with a smirk on his face. We all looked at him like he's a dumbass, which he was. We remind him that there are actually 3 periods in hockey and we'd talk after the game. After we win he ended up taking off for some reason and the C-YA chant followed him out the door.
Ah, that jogged the memory. He came over after the second period thinking the game was actually over (ya know, like two halves in basketball or something). We kindly reminded him that hockey plays 3 periods and to walk away from us. I don't remember if we finished the C-Ya chant with the proper chain of profanities, though he definitely deserved every one of them. The Sharkeez Shark Bowls are a helluva drug...
"I've got an idea--an idea so smart that my head would explode if I even began to know what I'm talking about." - Peter Griffin