[Editor's note: If you've wondered where Adam's been this summer, he's been working on this. We did not feel we could let the Red Berenson era end without doing it justice, and this is our attempt. Enjoy. –BC]
It’s the roof. It has to be the roof. Yost Ice Arena, née Yost Fieldhouse, wasn’t made for hockey, but stand outside and look up and it’s impossible not to feel like it’s a relative of an Original Six building, perhaps the Montreal Forum’s cousin or the sibling of the Olympia in Detroit. No, it wasn’t built for hockey. At its core, Yost is just a big brick barn; it’s the people inside that made the barn a rink and made the rink one of the most maddening, intimidating places for opponents to play hockey in North America. The sharp wit of the crowd, the perfect pep band, the waves of sound that crawled the walls, crested at the ceiling, and crashed to the ice were staples of Yost throughout the 1990s. Getting there, though, might not have happened if not for a chance encounter with a bunch of Bears.
Sponsor Note: this post made possible by our continued partnership with Homesure Lending. If you're in need of a mortgage, Matt will collect your information quickly, check several different mortgage companies for the best possible rate, and pass it along to you. Then you get a house. Or a houseboat, I guess? Don't buy a houseboat, that's my advice to you.
Well fine, then. Be like that. Buy a dang houseboat. See if I care. –BC
An Empty Barn
Red Berenson, head coach: It was disappointing [when I first arrived] from the standpoint that our team wasn’t very good and the image of the program wasn’t very good, so the fans were really— they weren’t there very often. When we played Michigan State was the only time we had a full building, and there were more green and white people there than there were Michigan people. So, it was hard to recruit good players to come here and then see that we weren’t getting the support from our fans, but we were all confident that when our team got better that they would come.
But we had to do some things away from the rink, too, and I think we did a good job. We got our players to go up and visit fraternities and sororities, we got the ticket office to take season tickets and particularly Michigan State tickets— those seemed to be the hottest ticket— up to the Diag and interact with the students; the same thing in the dorm. I constantly was on the move around town giving away tickets, trying to get people to come to the game, and just telling them “If you like it, I guarantee you you’ll want to buy a ticket next time.”
Mel Pearson, assistant coach: It was interesting. When I first got here one of the first things that happened to me was that I was given 400 tickets to give away for every game, which I found...odd. We had trouble putting people in the building. Then obviously when I left here later on I could hardly get four tickets for my family, so things really evolved.
The first few years I think we had to change the culture here, change the atmosphere. Coach Berenson brought an exciting brand of hockey. He would always say he wanted to play like the Montreal Canadiens in the ’70s and the Edmonton Oilers in the ’80s; upbeat-type teams. I think that really transformed the whole atmosphere in Yost.
Berenson: The building was never intended to be a hockey rink. It was built as an indoor field house, the first of its kind, but when Don Canham built Crisler for basketball and they moved basketball out of Yost, I don’t know whose idea it was to put hockey in Yost— or to try it— but they did it and from the old Coliseum over by Fingerle Lumber, well, that’s where I played. In fact, I lived just down the street from there at 424 South Hill Street my last two years here. So, I’d just walk to the rink. I could see people lining up all the way down nearly to our house before the games.
But anyway, when I came back it was disappointing, the support and the image of the program and so on wasn’t very good, but then it slowly changed. Even in the building I thought our administration and building management— I think it was Wilf Martin at the time and Mark Renfrew and we recognized that we needed to spruce up the building, so we did that slowly. We filled in underneath the bleachers, for example, and we added some storage areas and we didn’t put up new boards but we put up new signage and we got new nets, and slowly the rink started to look a little better. We cleaned up the lobbies and we tried to improve the lightning.
Well, it wasn’t until ’96 that we did any kind of a serious renovation, but we were doing something every year, so I felt better that the building was more acceptable. I think there was a time where Canham took all the mirrors out of the ladies’ washrooms in football— I don’t think we did that in Yost— because of the ladies taking too much time and then creating lineups. We didn’t have that problem at Yost, but we tried to make it fan friendly, but you still had to win. But you didn’t want people coming to a dirty rink or sticky seats, little things like that, so that’s what it was like. We had our moments of glory in that building, but the fans didn’t get to see much of them. Slowly they started to come.
[After THE JUMP: Kent Brothers’ speech, the legend of the Doughboy, and how Yost boosted recruiting (for Michigan and opponents)]