Hockey attendance record falls as Michigan beats Michigan State, 5-0, at Big Chill in the Big House
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 7:23 PM
ANN ARBOR - You never know what you'll see from the 96th row of a hockey crowd, but among the most surprising possibilities might be the puck.
"Oh, you can see just fine," Becky Karakash said Saturday from the top row of Michigan Stadium. "From up here, it's kind of good because you can actually see plays develop better."
Ninety-six rows below and another 65 yards or so to center ice, the Michigan hockey team beat Michigan State, 5-0, in front of 113,411, the largest crowd in hockey history.
Hours before the game, campfires blazed throughout the parking lots near the stadium, with many fans turning to liquid refreshments for additional warmth. Footballs flew through the air, but those games of catch took place alongside impromptu hockey games, where tennis balls served as pucks and overturned trash barrels as goals.
Inside the stadium, fans batted beachballs, performed the Wave, chanted, danced and sang along with the Michigan marching band. A eight-mph wind blew steadily throughout, making the 41-degree temperature at faceoff feel like 34, but most fans seemed well-prepared.
"Layers. Lots of layers," said Joanna Kastely, standing next to Karakash in the stadium's highest reaches. Wearing her souvenir ticket on a green and white Michigan State lavalier, Kastely said her biggest challenge was neither weather nor vantage point.
"My husband's a Michigan fan; that's why he's down there," she said, gesturing half a section over. "We're a mixed marriage."
As one might expect of the man who charged money for 96th-row seats to a hockey game, Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon doesn't lack for confidence. Brandon, 58, was chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza before taking his current earlier this year, and he took over the marketing of the event with one goal in mind: "If we were going to take this on," he said in a phone interview earlier this week, "we wanted to make sure we had the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game anywhere."
That didn't prove to be a problem. Tickets went on sale April 21 at $15 apiece; by May 6, public sales were halted after more than 100,000 had been purchased.
Gordon "Red" Berenson, an all-American at Michigan in 1961 and '62 before a 17-year career in the NHL, took over as coach of the program in 1984, when such an event would have been unthinkable. Winner of more NCAA hockey championships than any other school, Michigan had qualified for the NCAA tournament just once since 1965. Yost Ice Arena was suffering from neglect, and not until Berenson's sixth season did the Wolverines draw more than 100,000 fans in an entire season.
All this past week, Berenson tried to maintain focus, but when the offical attendance was announced in the third period, the 71-year-old coach clapped his hands behind the Michigan bench, and afterward, he was still beaming.
"Pretty good show, eh," said Berenson, whose teams have been to the past 20 NCAA tournaments . "For hockey to come in here and have an event like this, it's really special."
Few fans traveled farther for Saturday's game than the friends and family of Michigan senior captain Carl Hagelin.
The group of 20 who made the 4,135-mile trek from Sodertalje, Sweden, were easy to spot amid the throng, sporting bright yellow jerseys with "Sweden" emblazoned in capital letters across the front and "Hagelin" and his jersey number 12 across the back.
Hagelin made the trip worthwhile for his family by scoring Michigan's third goal 12:12 into the second period and its fourth 8:57 into the third.
"I think we all got goosebumps when we saw Coach clapping" after the attendance was announced, Carl Hagelin said. "It felt great to be part of history."