BLACK METAL Comment Count

Brian April 11th, 2017 at 12:06 PM

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IT IS 1998 and hockey is dying.

Its executioners are its own coaches, who have strangled opposing offenses with a variety of neutral zone traps. Scoring is down almost two and a half goals a game from the firewagon 1980s. Jacques Lemaire wins three Stanley Cups playing the most stultifying brand of hockey imaginable. At Michigan State, Ron Mason seeks to win games –1 to –2, and does with depressing frequency. Your author is mere months away from swearing off the Red Wings forever after attending two games at Joe Louis Arena at which the only reaction from the crowd comes on goals, of which there is about one a period, and when a man named "Mo Cheese" does a jiggle-dance on the jumbotron.

That fall, two people walked into Yost Ice Arena for the first time: Mike Comrie and I. I sat in the student section; Mike Comrie set people on fire and laughed about it. I don't know anything about Mike Comrie's childhood but I know it involved ants and a magnifying glass.

I just missed the Brendan Morrison era but even if I'd seen it, I'd probably still believe Comrie is the closest thing to an on-ice avatar of the Red Berenson era in existence. He was a tiny puck wizard who defied all logical modes of playing hockey with sheer talent. It was not uncommon for Comrie to make a zone entry by himself, then tool around the offensive zone like Spike Albrecht doing donuts in the lane. The opposition allowed this because the alternative was approaching Comrie and risking an explosive moment after which Michigan would have another goal and you would have no pants.

Over the next decade it seemed like Michigan had an infinite supply of these guys. After Comrie came Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Tambellini, Eric Werner (who belongs on this list despite being a defenseman), TJ Hensick, Andrew Ebbett, John Shouneyia, and Andrew Cogliano. They were all different versions of the same assassin. Collectively they are this Cammalleri goal.

Under Red Berenson, Michigan hockey was an electric middle finger to the neutral zone trap. It defied NHL norms of the time, and sometimes basic physics itself. It took no quarter, and gave none. It lived in Yost Ice Arena, which for about 15 years was the most intimidating environment in sports.

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YOST WAS BLACK, pitch black. Literally so. The shot at the top of the post is one of the bleachers that I had the good fortune to acquire when Dave Brandon's renovation of Yost was literally throwing them away. It is not the bright and shiny anodyne chrome of the current building. It is not even the respectable deep blue that Michigan has on hand for uniforms, logos, and what-have-you. It is black.

It is unnecessarily black. At one edge the paint has worn down and you can see that underneath there is a layer of blue. Someone erased that blue, probably for no reason at all other than hockey was a non-revenue sport and black paint was cheaper. So they painted it black.

To walk into Yost Ice Arena in 1998 was a mindblowing experience for someone raised on the relatively genteel ways of Michigan Stadium. To be a Michigan fan is to have your nose in the air about the unhinged activities of those people; Yost was the Scarface coke bender kept hidden from public view. It is the only environment in the history of Michigan sports that can be compared in any way to Miami and its general attitude.

I have thought long and hard about why this might have come to be and still have no unifying theory, but by the time you arrived in 1998 at the same time as Mike Comrie it took about three games to fully assimilate into the baying hive mind. Then-Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone once told me to "shut the fuck up" between periods, and while I don't remember why he did this I assume he was 100% correct to do so.

And I was just a guy, really, not one of the gentlemen in the section behind the opposing bench. One of the Superfans was there, the guy with the Flintstones water buffalo hat. Next to him was the guy with the megaphone, and around them was a cadre of the dirtiest dudes in town.

comic

The megaphone, I think, is key to understanding the allure here. We have all had the experience of shouting something in anger at a referee at a football game. This is exactly as effective as shouting at your TV. There are one hundred thousand people in the stands and you are some vast distance away from the field even if you're in row 20; you are just a voice in the crowd.

At Yost, amongst six thousand people, in row ten, with the ears just the other side of some plexiglass, you know damn well that everyone can hear your every word. With a megaphone or without. By the time I had arrived there was a culture that understood and sought to exploit this, and it worked. I can't tell you how many times opposing players tried to spray people in the crowd with water bottles. The opposing parents were seated directly behind their bench, and directly in front of the dirtiest dudes in town, and since the dirtiest dudes in town had a tendency to select one player for excessive torment it was a semi-regular occurrence for a hockey parent to respond in kind. Rarely you'd catch a slightly unhinged one who would fume his way up the stairs and try to get in a fight.

The stupidity and the gloriousness of this should be apparent. For a period of several years the opposing parents had to be located across the rink, the ice serving as a demilitarized zone. Yost got people shook.

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The creation of this seething cauldron in the context of dead-puck-era hockey, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the great miracles of sports. The none-more-blackness of Yost had something to do with it. So did the basketball team's malaise.

But the primary factor was Red Berenson, who never gave a damn about what you thought he should do. Berenson spent four years in college when college was not a path to the NHL. He was literally the first player to ever go directly from the NCAA to the NHL. He was the NHL coach of the year at one point and could have continued being an NHL head coach indefinitely if he so chose. Instead he came back to Michigan. At a time when the primary way to win hockey games was by murdering the game itself he played balls-to-the-wall.

Yost was a magnet for sadists because it was a place you could go and see someone blown off the ice 8-1. A promotion where attendees got free tacos if Michigan scored ten goals had to be discontinued because it was costing too much. Here is an arena where the residents are chanting for more goals when they are already at nine—nine! They are no longer beating the dead horse, but gleefully spitting on its grave. Yost was a reflection of the product on the ice.

Red Berenson did a lot of great things for his university, his players, his student managers, his coaches, his alumni, and they will all remember him for the things he did for them. The thing Red Berenson did for me is turn Yost Ice Arena into the greatest sports environment I've ever been in. He did that because he is metal. Bite-the-head-off-a-bat metal.

Black fucking metal.

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[Bill Rapai]

Comments

goblue248

April 11th, 2017 at 12:14 PM ^

Had the privilege of going to the west regional game vs Denver & midwest regional game against Colorado College with my old man. Those are some of my favorite sports memories. To say Yost was electric wouldn't do it justice. 

saveferris

April 11th, 2017 at 3:32 PM ^

I was there too. Easily one of the 5 greatest sports moments I have ever had the privilege to attend. To call Yost electric that night is massively underselling the atmosphere there. Yost felt like that scene in Dune where Paul shows the Fremen how to use the Weirding Module to shatter rock into pieces.

Yeah, Yost became the equivalent of an Atreides Weirding Module. 

Anytime the NCAA schedules a hockey regional at some bland neutral site, the braintrust in charge of that dopey decision should be shown a video of Yost on this weekend; letting them know that this is what NCAA college can be.

Qmatic

April 11th, 2017 at 12:19 PM ^

+100 for the Mo Cheese reference. I couldn't stand that guy. It got so bad that in the mid-2000s they would do a LGRW chant that would morph into "Let's go Cheese" as they showed his goofy dancing on the jumbotron.

Ihatebux

April 11th, 2017 at 12:28 PM ^

In '91 or '92, I remember taking one of those long plastic horns to Yost that all of the soccer fans call vuvuzalas.  I borrowed it from my brother, who used it at WMU hockey games along with several hundred other fans.   After blowing it several times, I was uncerimoniously told to cut the fuck out by ushers.   So any amount of roudiness that occurred at Yost doesn't even compare to what was going on at other CCHA schools like WMU, but it was still a lot of fun.

tspoon

April 12th, 2017 at 4:16 PM ^

Western? Meh.  That was hardly an intimidating venue back then.

I went over to watch M play a game there probably around 92. Sat in the front row of the student section with a friend who was attending WMU, and of course I did the Goal Count chant as we blazed right through them on their ice. (There was a healthy smattering of M fans spread around the rink doing the chant, but few in the WMU student section.)

By the third period I had the entire WMU student section singling me out for the "A-hole!! A-hole!!" chant.  It was a beautiful glimpse of how painful Michigan's domination of our opponents was at the time ... just as Red's machine was kicking into full gear.

The girl, who had a great sense of humor, was amazed that Michigan hockey could get all of her schoolmates that riled up.

But it wasn't exactly a wild scene. Or intimidating.

 

stephenrjking

April 11th, 2017 at 12:28 PM ^

Yost is still great. I hear the complaints that it has "changed" and see the aluminum everywhere and see the students all in a corner like some other arena, and I must grant that it's not like it was when I was screaming my head off 15-20 years ago.

But it is still great. A couple of years ago we were in town for an afternoon wedding my wife was in, and as soon as the reception began dying down we bolted for home, got in our hockey jerseys, left the youngest with my mother, and together my wife and my two older kids went to Yost. It was the first time my girls had been at a Michigan home game in any sport, and my first time back at Yost with students since I had left town in 2005.

It was a revelation. The band, the chants, the crowd, the smells, the sounds. It was magnificent. Intimidating. Wonderful. 

We've been to games at UMD and we've been to Michigan games at Minnesota in various sports, including hockey (where Minnie has a wonderful venue). It's still not the same. Yost is absolutely awesome, still. Perhaps it's an older, rev-limited awesome now, but it's still awesome.

Many of my best sports fan experiences are Michigan hockey experiences. As a kid, watching some early-season game against a team like Illinois-Chicago with my family and some friends of ours, totally bewildered by the chants and the noise. A sold out JLA evenly split between Michigan and MSU fans. The Cold War. Road trips to places like Kalamazoo and Marquette and Omaha. Travelling to Frozen Fours. Even watching warmups on the glass at Mariucci and having Tyler Motte flip my daughter a puck.

And oh man the regionals at home. The Molly Game. Denver. Maine. Colorado College. 

Unforgettable. And all because of what Red built.

I'm almost certainly not a college hockey fan without him. Most of the rest of us aren't, either. 

It is a testament to Red that there was real concern about whether or not he, now past his prime, would retire. That Brian would feel compelled to call for him to either step down or be removed. Because people care about the team. It is also a testament that in this season, the worst in 30 years, in late series broadcast on BTN when the team was hopelessly done, there were cheering fans and full seats and atmospheres that came across better on tv than most other college venues present in person. 

And now we expect to win title #10 with a new coach. We know we'll be great again.

He built that. Thanks, Red.

Bando Calrissian

April 11th, 2017 at 12:45 PM ^

Any Yost with the student section the way it is these days can never be objectively be called "great," particularly when one knows what it was like before being a student ticket holder meant knowing dumb dance moves and the words to the Canadian National Anthem.

The old Yost had a student section that would just about take the paint of the walls on any given Friday or Saturday night. Remember when Red had to get his grandkid on the ice to tell the students to tone it down a notch?

Yost these days, with the video board and lame commercials and canned music, no band director dancing and tiny, limp-member student section... It's sad. I know, your absence makes the heart grow fonder, but no. Just, no. The Yost Brian describes was a magical place, and that place is pretty much gone.

reshp1

April 11th, 2017 at 6:18 PM ^

I got kicked out of that game for doing the C-ya chant by a cop. They also had the band play to cover it up. It wasn't a rev limiter, it was a neutering. I haven't been to a game since, but I hear they've laid off trying to suppress that chant, but that's been replaced by a relatively indifferent crowd in general, as Bando says. Not to pull a back in my day, but back in the early 2000's Yost's student section behaved like a single obnoxiously hostile organism. The degree to which everyone was in tune to each other when executing the chants and cheers is something I've never experienced anywhere else since.

Bando Calrissian

April 12th, 2017 at 1:38 AM ^

I remember that year fondly, would have been 2004-5. Every time there was a penalty, the ushers were in the aisles looking for anyone that went "too far" on the CYA chant. At the end of that season there were focus group meetings for student ticket holders, and the assistant AD explained that they were pretty much OK with just about everything but "cocksucker." That was the tipping point. If you were seen saying it at the end of the CYA cheer, they were going to eject you. The whole thing was absolutely silly. The next year, the band started playing over the cheer. That was also the first year the director refused to dance. Pretty much went downhill from there

Blue In NC

April 11th, 2017 at 12:38 PM ^

Great piece.  I started watching the program build in 1988 as a freshman when they were giving out Subway/Michigan sweatshirts to a couple of hundred of us bold enough to stand in line to buy student season tickets.  The rebirth of M hockey was definitely chugging along and momentum was growing with guys like Felsner, Harlock, Neaton, Sharples and Roberts taking the lead and later guys like Tamer, Ward, Wiseman, Shields and Knuble taking it from there.  

And I still remember where I was on the day of the 3OT NCAA game with Maine. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/31/sports/hockey-maine-has-final-say-in-third-overtime.html

When the dream was finally realized in 1996 and then again in 1998, M hockey was on top of the world as far as things you wanted to be a part of.  I vividly remember being in Yost for the huge upset of N Dakota in 98.

It's sobering how the program has fallen back to earth a bit since then but it's relatively easy to see the path back.  Let's hope we get this one right.

InterM

April 11th, 2017 at 1:31 PM ^

I had to crash a friend's apartment to catch that game, since I was a poor cable-free student at the time.  Little did my friend know she'd have to put up with me for a LONG time that afternoon -- but at least I restrained myself from breaking up any furniture afterward . . . .

Esterhaus

April 11th, 2017 at 2:44 PM ^

 

All my shirts from back in the day, now looking at  thirty years plus,as well as the hand-sewn M flag dad bought me as a kid during the late 70's. Hockey has changed, and the new coach will be selected based on his ability to crush opponents and restore the scoring terror we used to inflict. Hopefully Red will still be part of the program as a mentor and recruiter. There ain't no place like Yost.

saveferris

April 11th, 2017 at 4:25 PM ^

I caught my first game at Yost as a freshman in 1989.  Tickets back then cost $4 and you could pretty much sit anywhere you wanted because the arena was usually only about half full.  Michigan was just starting to hit it's stride at this point and was one of the best kept secrets on campus.  I remember the Michigan Daily writing op eds the week leading up to a game against MSU, appealing to the students to come out and support the hockey team, because Spartans fans would routinely travel from East Lansing and buy-out Yost in those days.

That shit was finished by the time I was graduating in 1993.

Thank you Red for all the great memories these past 30 years.  You will be missed.

Bocheezu

April 11th, 2017 at 12:33 PM ^

the first time I went to a game.  As an angsty sophomore getting crushed by engineering, it was the outlet I desperately needed.  It's hard for me to imagine a modern American sport that so closely mimiced gladiatorial Rome with venom-filled bloodlust from the fans.  It was amazing to see opposing parents first experience the lion's den/snake pit of Yost after years of watching their son play calm, mind-mannered games.  They always fought back when their kid was a freshman.  They never fought back after that.

JeepinBen

April 11th, 2017 at 12:32 PM ^

I know this is a rememberance of Red the Coach, but he was a damn good player too. One of only 7 guys in the NHL to score 6 goals in 1 game. Only one person has done it since Red did

Year of Revenge II

April 11th, 2017 at 12:33 PM ^

I choose to remember this part of Red's legacy rather than the past few years or so as he hung on too long.

Great coach, and in large part responsible for the national force and contender that Michigan became. Let's get back to that in honor of him. Now that this issue is over, I am ready to pay him his just due.

J_Dub

April 11th, 2017 at 12:36 PM ^

Since I am at work, I have to write my excitement instead of expressing it the natural way. Post gave me goosebumps as I recalled my 3 years of season tickets as a student. I had the privilege of standing very close to that visitor bench, mere feet from the glass and the parents. I like to think I did a fair job of making the Yost experience as uncomfortable as possible for those visiting players and parents.

Whenever I talk about Michigan, especially to those from here in Southern California who don't know much about hockey and personify Michigan as The Big House, I mention that season tickets at Yost were the most underrated part of the experience.

Thanks for all the memories Red.

Big Boutros

April 11th, 2017 at 1:31 PM ^

The crackdown on foul language and the band moving their seats happened under Bill Martin. 2008 I think. Brandon installed all the aluminum. It was an organic monster for 15 years that the suits finally noticed.

But Red himself also helped dampen the atmosphere IMO. The teams weren't as good and they played differently, and Red stopped cursing. Michigan Stadium was empty and lame for the past eight years and now we're screaming the DE-FENSE chant with like ten seconds left in a 38-0 win against Northwestern. It's packed to the gills and it's loud. Truly loud. Earsplitting despite Yost and Bernard Green's cavernous design.

The black metal Yost will be back someday IMO. Maybe when we rename it Berenson.

Bando Calrissian

April 11th, 2017 at 12:40 PM ^

How the hell did you get a piece of Yost bleacher? The word was the Athletic Department was going to destroy them, no souvenirs, didn't care, don't ask about it. Decision is final. Heard some folks openly talking of showing up at the last game before the renovations with a circular saw to take theirs home. Never seen one show up anywhere. I would have done a lot for the chunk of old wood we sat on for fifteen years.

skurnie

April 11th, 2017 at 12:46 PM ^

I remember my first Michigan Hockey game (2003 OT win vs NTM). I was blown away by the atmosphere at Yost, even after hearing so much about it over the years.

My Dad hadn't been to a hockey game since the 70's at Michigan and we had an incredible time. We still talk about it almost 15 years later.

My mild-mannered Dad screaming 'IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT" about six minutes into the game is something we still laugh about. 

Hab

April 11th, 2017 at 12:47 PM ^

Thank you for making Yost the best place to be in the late 90s.  I distinctly remember getting my first puck ever when I was 6, dancing on a broken ankle after beating ND (broke it playing indoor at the fieldhouse and didn't have time to go to the doctor), playing IM hockey at 3am, and getting booed off the ice after missing in Score-O.  Cheers Red.  Thank you.  

Cali Wolverine

April 11th, 2017 at 12:50 PM ^

college hockey (or knew that it was even a thing) until I got to Michigan. Damn...I was glad I bought season tickets my freshman year. Yost was such an amazing environment for a game, our coach - was second to none, and the players that came through during those years were incredible - many we got to watch in the NHL. Just sad to see where the program is right now. Look forward to coming back and seeing a game for the first time since 1998 - but it will be sad not to see Red.