[Yost in the late ‘90s/Kalmbach via Bentley Historical Library]
Michigan’s heralded 1993 and 1994 recruiting classes began paying dividends immediately. The 1993-94 Wolverines had three winning streaks of seven games or longer in just a 41-game season, the longest of which reached 11 games. The 1994-95 team took something of a step back—their longest winning streak was only nine games—while still winning 30 games and finishing first in the CCHA.
The most dominant streak of the decade dovetailed with the vaunted recruits becoming upperclassmen. The nature of collegiate hockey scheduling left its mark on previous winning streaks; many took place across multiple road series with neutral-site games sprinkled in. In 1995-96, however, Michigan’s offense hit its stride just as the Wolverines returned home for a six-game homestand at the beginning of January. Their eight-game winning streak started with a GLI title that they took by a combined score of 9-2. They put up even gaudier numbers in front of their own crowd, averaging 9.6 goals per game over six home contests.
The season ended with Michigan’s first national championship in 32 years; before they got there, goalies were pulled, the wooden bleachers creaked and swayed, the crowd beyond the students got involved, and for opponents, the ghosts of Yost were growing louder.
Brendan Morrison, forward (1993-97): That was an incredible stretch. I think we averaged that month or six weeks or whatever it was, we averaged something ridiculous like 8.7 goals a game or something like that. [Ed. A—They averaged 7.6 goals per game over the ten games from the GLI at the end of December through the end of January and the aforementioned 9.6 goals per game counting just the six-game January homestand.] Just absurd. I know every single home game we played, the other team’s goalie was pulled at some point. I don’t think it was a very fun place for other teams to come in and play. They knew they were walking into kind of the lion’s den there; we were rolling and scoring a bunch of goals. It was intimidating. I remember other programs coming out and verbalizing that it was a tough place to play. It was difficult. It’s almost like with our fans and playing in that arena, it was like you were up 1-0 or 2-0 before the game even started.
Marty Turco, goaltender (1994-98): For me, having us rolling teams, you look at the scores and you’re like rolling teams, yeah, 8-3, 7-2, 10-4. You’re like, Alright. Everybody else was happy except for Red because Red was like, “No one cares because we won and we dominated but how about those two you let in there?” I might not have been needed as much to have the game on the line early and mid-year, but he wanted to make sure I was the guy he thought I was at the end of the year. So it wasn’t all hunky-dory during that year [1995-96] for me in particular but it was huge in terms of growth.
Tim Carmody, student season ticket holder: It was exciting. It was definitely very relevant. People would go all the time. People would show up a little bit later for parties on hockey nights.
[After THE JUMP: the crowd’s creativity, the environment’s advantage, and the quirks of an old barn]
Turco: We would argue Brendan Morrison, honestly, he was just as popular as any student-athlete on campus. We did well. Hockey was a super passionate [fanbase]. Toughest ticket to get in town. We all had trouble getting tickets for family and friends that wanted to come. It was just a hot, hot ticket. So to be a student-athlete on campus, it was fun. It was a big campus and every once in awhile you felt a little resentment from a professor who didn’t quite understand or care for athletics, but other than that things were pretty good from my perspective.
Dr. Jamie L. Nix, hockey band director: I took over the band after they’d just come off a national championship, and of course we had Brendan Morrison. Everyone thought Michigan could repeat and I think Brendan won the Hobey Baker Award the year after that [championship], so there already was a lot of great energy in Yost. But as we went through the next couple of years, I do remember things especially with the student section getting a lot more intense, a lot more vocal, louder. The cheers started going across the ice, not just in the student section. It was a pretty amazing time to be there.
Bill Muckalt, forward (1994-98): The students, the crowd...just “Ring, ring, it’s your mom,” the introductions, you score a goal and the crowd would just play off it: “We want another, we want another” and it just got to a point where you talk to guys I played pro against or ran into and they hated coming in here because they knew it was a hard place and it was home ice and they’re in for a long night. It’s like having an extra player there.
Red Berenson, head coach: I just think [the crowd] makes everybody better. It makes our team better. I’ve always said our fans give us a one-goal lead going in before the game even starts, our home ice does. Then it was the reputation of Yost [that] started to get around and our fans got personal and they got belligerent and they got obscene and we tried to temper that and we’ve pretty much done that, and our students have cooperated and they understand, too. But at the time it was getting pretty rowdy so the visiting team, their parents and their fans didn’t even want to come to Yost. So it got to be intimidating for the opponents.
Nix: When everything was going well and it was an intense game and we were winning or close, I remember having a really good energy dialogue between the audience and the band. It was sort of like we knew when to let the crowd take over and they knew when to let the band take over. It’s sort of hard to describe but there was this mutual understanding of what our roles were, and that’s what helped create that atmosphere. Of course it had to do with a really great hockey team, too.
There was a huge feeding off of what each other were doing. And then there was another group of students, like a couple people that would sit in a different location than the main student section— because the student section used to be all one section— that would do the cowbell cheer: du-du-du-dudu-du-dududu-du-du-du-dudu Go Blue. So there were times where we would even let that person do their thing, which was different from what the main student section was doing, which was different from what the band was doing. There were three elements that were going on at once.
Turco: It’s pretty unfair to come into Yost and then have this amazing band so in tune with each other, the music, and the game. I never have since felt the energy that I have during my playing days at Yost because of the band. That arena, the view and the sightlines and the history, then it’s like a cherry on top to have that pep band. Man oh man, it was just such an advantage for us to go and play in that rink with our jerseys and that band. It was almost like, pffft, good luck. It was 1-0 before we hit the ice.
Berenson: I’ve had some really, really good support for the hockey program and they’ve given us— even though people say “Oh, you’ve got an old building,” well, it’s a great old building and it’s a clean old building and it’s a special old building and so on. And now I guess you could say it’s a historic old building and now it’s got a reputation of being one of the most iconic college hockey rinks in the country and yet it was never intended to be a hockey rink; it wasn’t built with the equipment or the infrastructure to be a hockey rink. But when Canham moved hockey in there I don’t think he had any idea what it was going to become.
Nix: Being that it’s Michigan, there were certain traditions that you just didn’t touch, things that were always there. The cool thing about it is the fans came to expect certain things at certain points in the game, and so there was always this momentum and build-up to those moments.
Morrison: It’s an environment that you just cannot replicate. It’s better than pro sports; that’s my opinion. I was fortunate enough to play in the NHL for fifteen years or fourteen years but you can’t duplicate or replicate that environment. Just the passion that goes into college sports; the band is just in tune or in sync with the game and the ebbs and flows of a hockey game and they know exactly when to get the crowd fired up and maybe get the crowd acting a little goofy with the Bullwinkle song. They’re just totally in tune with the vibe of the game and they do a great job keeping people involved.
As a player, a lot of times when you’re on the ice, the noise, the emotions of the crowd, it’s hard to hear. But a lot of times when you get a chance to soak it in is when you’re on the bench, so a lot of times when there’s a stoppage in play and you have a minute to take things in and you get to watch the band and how they’re interacting with the crowd, those are always fun times. I remember multiple times laughing on the bench with guys about what was going on.
LJ Scarpace, goaltender (1999-2001): When I came in, even before I got to transfer to Michigan it seemed like it had been here forever, like it was this staple of it. Whether it was me being from the state of Michigan or whatever, but it was so coordinated, it just gave you that aura of tradition, like that was how these crowds were.
It wasn’t until later that I learned the history of that Cornell series and talking with Coach about how he would be going out and trying to get tickets in people’s hands just to show some support. That’s been a real educational process just seeing where it actually was, not what it is today, gave you a lot more appreciation when I walked into this barn that was just packed and raucous. No opponent would want to come into Yost and play because it was like you were going to a gladiator ring. That’s the sense you had as a team. When you were up here waiting to play, it was just like...I think teams were without a doubt intimidated to play here.
Brian Wiseman, forward (1990-94): There are very few that would be [able] to match it, what this building created in the ’90s period and the early 2000s, and I’ve been to lots of pro rinks at various levels and college rinks.
Bubba Berenzweig, defenseman (1995-99): I don’t think I spent much time in Yost prior to actually getting there, so really the first day I showed up and our first game was my first experience with that crowd. It was pretty awesome. I can remember my knees were shaking and the adrenaline was just pumping that very first time I stepped on that ice. It was incredible.
Scarpace: There’s nothing like it. Wise[man] was talking about the momentum and there’s been so many games, even for me coming back and being here for 13 seasons, there’s like a Michigan mystique or magic to some of these games. There was a game against Western Michigan where we were down by a couple goals and Carl Hagelin snuck one in from the blueline. Like, how did we score this with a second to go? We ended up winning in overtime. The place blew up and there’s nothing to compare it to.
There’s no environment that I’ve been to in college for sure that has mimicked what Yost has brought to college hockey. For me, it’s zero. It’s an intimate setting. It’s a better setting than a pro setting and so it’s a unique setting for hockey but college hockey, if you were to compare it, it’s like a jewel. It’s a gem.
Morrison: That’s the thing: they get everyone to buy in and do it. I think that’s what’s really unique about being in Yost and playing there. Obviously the Big House, it’s its own apple and there’s nothing like it, but I don’t think you get, in the Big House, the intimacy that you get in Yost. Obviously [that’s] just based on sheer numbers or the size of the Big House. You get a lot more intimacy inside Yost and I think that’s what makes it that special place.
[now imagine the BG player in the background is the color of Mario Batali’s crocs (via Bentley)]
Specters and Students
The ghosts of Yost, the unseen forces of intimidation that took root in the building, were swirling by the middle of the decade. Imagine being an opposing player in the ’90s and arriving for a series at Yost. You know going in that the empty cave you’re walking into will soon be so full of people so close to the ice as to be suffocating; if that isn’t enough for the senses to handle, wait until the noise kicks in. The history and the stories of the rink that started making the rounds had teams leery long before puck drop.
How could you skate onto that ice and not be swimming in thought? Don’t forget to play gap sound or Michigan’s forwards will walk right past you. Don’t forget to finish your check or they’ll just force it deeper into the zone. Don’t make eye contact with the students; they’ll never let you forget you did. Better hope your uniforms aren’t goofy; they’ll never let you forget that, either. If you’re a goalie, don’t take off your mask. Don’t circle too close to the glass. Don’t let in a goal. Don’t hold up your glove. And whatever you do, do not look to your right. The ghosts are bad; the Children of Yost are worse.
Ross Hammersley, student season ticket holder: I remember anytime we played Bowling Green, we always used to make fun of their Tootsie Roll-looking uniforms, and so there was any number of jokes we would make just based on Tootsie Rolls. It doesn’t have to be vulgar to be funny. It just looked like there were Tootsie Rolls skating around on the ice.
Megaphone Man: Bowling Green came in one time with all orange jerseys and shorts, and their goalie just looked so ridiculous because he was head-to-toe orange. We spent probably about two periods perfecting a black hole chant where we customized it for him, and I’ll never get it out of my head because we started chanting it so we could remember it and get it right, but instead of “You’re not a goalie, you’re a sieve! You’re not a sieve, you’re a funnel” we did carrot, orange, pumpkin, squash, so it was “You’re not a goalie, you’re a carrot! You’re not a carrot, you’re an orange! You’re not an orange, you’re a pumpkin! You’re not a pumpkin, you’re a squash! You’re not a squash, you just suck, you just suck, you just suck!”
It was hilarious trying to teach it to everyone and we were chanting it for probably two periods before we came out with it so everyone could do it in unison, but we just kept chanting “Carrot, orange, pumpkin, squash! Carrot, orange, pumpkin, squash!” So that was a fun one.
Roger Spurgeon, student season ticket holder: I remember once a cheer popping up. One of the teams had a goalie named MacDonald, and he got pulled. Then I think the second goalie got pulled, and we’re singing in the stands “Old MacDonald had a farm...with a sieve, sieve here, and a sieve, sieve there, here a sieve, there a sieve.” That spontaneous creativity coming through, it was infectious.
Megaphone Man: It wasn’t just “You suck,” it was something smart and intelligent that would get some good laughs at their expense, and most [visiting team] parents took it with a grain of salt and had a good attitude about it, but there were always some that took huge offense and almost every week there was a letter in the Daily from Bowling Green fans or Lake State fans just talking about how terrible we were.
Hammersley: Everybody had a really high hockey IQ, too. Especially when you’re above the glass and you know you can be heard. We would take advantage of those silent pauses in between the band playing and the play restarting and we’d give it to the refs about a bad call in a pretty intelligent way; not speaking for myself, but everybody there would give them a good ribbing about bad calls and have a good reason for it. Who knows if that ended up affecting any calls later in games, but there was just generally in the crowd back then, at least, the ref heckling came from a place where there was a lot of hockey knowledge backing up what people were saying.
Spurgeon and Spooner, simultaneously: At least we thought so.
Spurgeon: We may have been wrong, but we were damn sure of our position and we were gonna stick to it.
Morrison: They’re just ruthless, man.
Berenson: We get to hear some of it, and sometimes if we don’t hear it, if it’s really significant we’ll hear about it later. Someone will bring it up and so on. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea. We’ve even had meetings where we’ve had to drown out some of the chants. If we think it’s getting...then the band will pick up, so we’re in sync. We want our fans to be totally involved but we want them to be Michigan, too; we want them to cheer with class and maybe a strategy and maybe a sense of humor and so on but we don’t want them to be obscene. I’ve been at rinks where some of the language was so bad our fans wouldn’t stay. They just left the rink. It was embarrassing. It was in the CCHA.
Mel Pearson, assistant coach: I think the first few times you hear a new one you’re down on the bench and you weren’t quite sure. But then as things go on or you’d go home and your wife or kids would say, “Dad, did you hear that cheer?” “A little bit.” Then you hear about it and after a little while you’re very familiar. “Ugly Parents,” it’s harmless. It’s one of my favorites but people didn’t like it in some of the opposition’s parents or fans and they got into it with some of our students and whatnot.
I was always worried about coming back when I was at Tech because you didn’t want “Ugly Parents” and your wife’s sitting there, right in there with all those people. That’s what makes the atmosphere. That’s what makes it fun for our students and fans to come to. We’re in the entertainment business; you’ve got to entertain. We want school pride. We want people to come into this building and feel good about it and the team they’re cheering for and we represent that. We represent not only Michigan but all the alumni and the fans that we have.
[a more recent view of the surprisingly seldom-photographed stairs via Evan Allen’s blog]
Touch the Banner
What was chanted inside Yost wasn’t the only thing that stuck with those who inhabited the building in the 1990s. The building’s architecture was mentioned by multiple people interviewed for this series; the intricacy of some of the brickwork and woodwork give the building a gravitas newer buildings can’t match. The one thing about the interior of the building that came up over and over is seen by very few but leaves an impression when traversing it balanced on an a fraction of an inch of steel: the staircase that leads from Yost’s home locker room to the ice.
Morrison: It’s a really unique journey down from the locker room to the ice. I don’t know of any other arenas in the world really that you get to experience that. I guess the famous arena that had the walk down and up the stairs would have been the old Chicago Stadium and players talked about how you get to walk up and down stairs to get to the ice; you get that at Yost.
I remember learning the tradition where you come down the stairs and we have the big “Go Blue” sign that was painted above the stairs and everybody would touch that one the way down and there’d be a big taxidermied wolverine up there too that you’d kind of look at on your way down, but the cool thing is that even though you’re focused on the game and you’re mentally prepared for that, once you get to the bottom of the stairs it used to be a longer walk before they renovated the change room where the players would have a much longer corridor to interact with the fans. They just kind of had these two ropes on the side when you’d walk through the corridor of Yost there and you’d get high-fives from fans before you got onto the ice.
Berenzweig: There’s usually a ramp coming up to the ice surface instead of walking down steps. I don’t think I’ve ever played in another rink where that was the case. It didn’t seem all that bizarre until you just brought that up. [laughs] I’ve never even given it another thought. That’s what I was used to and I didn’t think it was anything bizarre. All four years, even before they re-did the locker room, it was stairs. It was a short walk, just out of the locker room, turn the corner, bang the sign above your head as you’re going down the steps once you go out and walk right onto the ice and hear that place erupt.
I was the type of guy who, once I hit the ice, my adrenaline just started pumping every single time and I would zip around that ice as fast as I could two or three times. It was just incredible. It was absolutely incredible. There’s really no other way to describe it.
Turco: We still laugh, Chris Fox and Matt Herr and I, our whole class, Bill Muckalt and Greg Malicke, where we all met the first time [was] the backside by the zamboni door, getting dropped off on campus. It’s such a beautiful building with so much history, just to go in it even to this day just gives you goosebumps.
Then to get up to the locker room, the old locker room, to walk in there and just be nervous and so excited at the same time, it was truly indescribable. To see the jerseys, to practice in it for a while and then finally to pull one on come game time, I think I was just staring at it, looking down for a long time thinking, Oh my gosh, this is too surreal for me, anyway. Small town kid, this wasn’t even dreamt of. This literally was a dream that was made and came true. So to wear it and walk down those steps: very, very fortunate.
Bobby Hayes, forward (1995-99): To get up there, to walk into the locker room especially on a game night, with your jersey hanging in your stall with your name and number showing, right away it hits you. It’s like, This is big. No matter who you’re playing, you’ve got to be ready.
Coaches always had us prepared. Mel and Billy and Red were always so well prepared for our opponent. Then come gametime, to be able to walk down those stairs and as soon as you hit that last stair you got to a little flat area and you were going to hit the ice, it was pretty magical. They always had the band playing and right from the time you hit the ice it was a huge adrenaline rush for us.
Warmups were one of my favorite parts of the game because it was the least stress that you had on you for the entire night. You just wanted to go out and have a great warmup. It sounds kind of silly, but it’s tough to mess up in warmups. You feel like everybody’s watching you and want to pass the puck well, you want to do all the things well in warmups because you know so many people are watching you. It’s a lot of fun and Yost is a fantastic place to play. Michigan fans are absolutely incredible. We, the players, know what they’re there for. They’re there to see you work hard and see a victory. It brings the best out of you.
Berenzweig: Sometimes you might have, from the practices before or when you go on to play professional hockey, you’ve got this lactic acid build-up where your legs aren’t feeling great and there’s really nothing you can do about it, but for some reason I never had that issue at Yost, and I think a lot of it had to do with once you stepped on that ice and you heard that crowd go nuts, the adrenaline just took over and your legs would feel fine. You felt like you were floating on clouds and it just became so easy to skate. I think that really had a lot to do with that energy.
Turco: No one can respect the moment when you do that freshman year for the first time just how grand it is, but it leaves a major imprint. I had the amazingly good fortune of gaining the trust of the hockey staff to be able to play a lot of hockey games early in my career and throughout it, and the good fortunate that I had, and I talk about it quite often, is when I put my steel— when my skate touched the ice is when our great pep band kicked on. “The Victors” started when I hit the ice and I think later in my career and certainly afterwards, I never lost the importance or the fortunate that I had to be able to do that. Anyway, it meant a lot to me and when I hear that song start up at any sporting event or on my TV, it just has a special meaning to me.
Morrison: Every time you play at home it’s really special. You don’t get that everywhere. And maybe sometimes when you’re in that environment all the time you get used to it or maybe take it for granted but that was never the case there. Every single time I walked on the ice, with the band playing “The Victors” and the student section and the other fans standing up and cheering as well but the students leading the charge with the band, I would get goosebumps coming out onto the ice.
Nix: I’m from Alabama, so I came out of the SEC in football and all that. I’d never seen a hockey game before. So I got there and I was like, this is more crazy than an SEC football game. It was always packed, it was always sold out. I even remember if you bought season tickets for the hockey games, even as students you didn’t get the full season. I think they had to divide it half and half because there’s, what, only six or seven thousand people that Yost holds. On any given night, it was always full. I mean full from the beginning, too. It wasn’t like people trickling in. It was pretty awesome, I have to tell you that.
Hayes: That’s the beauty of Yost: It’s very harsh for opponents to play in and that’s the epitome of the sixth man. It’s one of the greatest crowds to ever play in front of as a home-team player. Nobody liked playing there. Of all the people that I’ve come across that played college hockey at other schools, the one thing you wanted them to say was not “Oh, you just beat us because you had so much talent” or “Your goalie was better than ours” or whatever. What I loved to hear the most was for those guys to say “Your crowd was brutal, man. It was so tough to play because you guys are mean to our goalie, you’re mean to our parents. You’re mean.” I look back now and I think it was pretty brutal. Fortunate to be on the right side of that.
Berenson: It’s been special. Every game we walk out to the bench and the players are skating around to warm up and the band is going and I always say to our assistant coaches, “If you can’t play inspired hockey in this building, you shouldn’t be playing hockey.” That’s been my feeling about Yost. That’s the way it is.
Coming in Part 4: Archrivals, cakewalks, late starts, and a trip to Boston: The NCAA West Regional, 1998