One thing can be said for certain about hockey in Yost Ice Arena: there’s a whole lot of sucking going on. Don’t take this writer’s word for it; ask the fans. Or don’t — they’ll tell you anyway.
Trevor Prior is in net for Miami. The press box phone rings. On cue, the crowd chants. “Hey, Prior. Phone call. It’s your mother. She says — you SUCK!”
The crowd at Yost is nothing if not fair. Goaltenders from other schools also suck.
After a Wolverine score against the Buckeyes, Ray Aho gets the ever-popular “sieve” cheer. “You’re not a goalie, you’re a sieve. You’re not a sieve, you’re a funnel. You’re not a funnel, you’re a vacuum. You’re not a vacuum, you’re a black hole. You’re not a black hole — YOU JUST SUCK! YOU JUST SUCK! YOU JUST SUCK!”
Visiting goaltenders don’t just suck at Yost; they’re also to blame.
“It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!”
For that matter, the phenomenon is not limited to goaltenders. Sometimes, whole teams suck.
After Michigan State kills a penalty, the P.A. announcer tells the crowd, “Michigan State is at full strength.” Most of the 6,000 assembled fans respond, “And they still SUCK!”
And it isn’t limited to players, either.
CCHA referee Matt Shegos blows the whistle, and a Wolverine heads to the box. The crowd chants, “Ref, you SUCK!” and repeats as needed.
Of course, the crowd can be nice — when someone tells them something they want to hear. When the announcer says that there’s one minute left in a given period, the crowd at Yost always remembers to say, “Thank you.”
Yost Ice Arena, home of the 1996 NCAA Champion University of Michigan Wolverines, is the place to see a hockey game in the CCHA. Don’t like the Wolverines? Who cares? Don’t come to cheer the game — come to watch the crowd in action.
It’s hard to get a ticket to see a game in Ann Arbor, but it wasn’t always this way. There was a time in the 1980s when student fan support was virtually nonexistent.
Longtime season ticket holder Angie Hall says the fans started to come when the Wolverines started winning. “It started in about ’90,” she says.
“When I started coming in ’86-’87, this was only half-filled most of the time,” says Angie. She says there’s always been a core of non-student fans.
“It’s fun to hear the fans get into it,” Diane Hatfield says, “because they weren’t always that way when we started coming to hockey games.”
Diane and her husband, Fred Hatfield, have been season ticket holders for 20 years. Both have been active in the Dekers, a Wolverine hockey booster club. Fred’s been president twice. Diane’s been treasurer “two or three” times. “I’ve been membership vice-president for the last five years,” she says.
“Dekers comes from the hockey term ‘deke,’ which means to fake out your opponent,” says Diane. “When people started the club in 1964, for some strange reason, they picked ‘Dekers.’ Since nobody knew what dekers meant — half the time they’d say ‘deckers’ — we officially changed it to the Dekers-Blue Line club about ten years ago.
“When Red first came,” says Diane, “we were at the very bottom. He brought in a team and was trying to build this program. It takes a while to do that. When we didn’t have a lot of people in the stands, we were the quietest people you’ve ever heard in your life.”
Things have changed at Yost, where chanting in unison is now expected. “The fans are very into it,” says Diane. “It’s intimidating for the opposing team.”
John Hauessler writes D’Scream, a fanzine for “the section formerly known as D,” It’s known now as Section 3, in the aftermath of the recent Yost renovations. Hauessler has been coming to Michigan hockey games since the 1987-88 season, and he says the Yost fan phenomenon built for several years before becoming the standard form of behavior fans and visitors alike have come to expect.
“It took root in the late 1980s, when UM passed the .500 mark (1987-88). Michigan was a rough-and-tumble team trying to get into the CCHA first division. There was a loyal group of obnoxious fans, but not enough to fill Yost by any means. But, each year the regular fan base increased and seemed to get more fanatical.
“All hell broke loose in 1990-91, when UM not only made the NCAA tourney for the first time in recent history, but hosted Cornell at Yost in the first round. That three-game series is often looked to as the turning point in Yost fandom.
“It was building, building, building for about four years, and that series put Yost over the top. It became the most obnoxious arena in the CCHA in March 1991, and has remained so ever since. But it didn’t happen overnight. Many people have forgotten the crescendo of the late 1980s.”
Diane Hatfield credits the Michigan hockey pep band for starting the tradition of chanting in unison. “The band really started the chant for the most part,” says Diane. “The students picked it up.” At first, she says, the band members would show up at the beginning of games because they were getting credit for being there, but they’d “slowly disappear” during the contests.
Now, says Fred Hatfield, the band is one of the best components of the Michigan hockey crowd. “They know when to play and not to play.” (You might ask the non-Michigan fans at last year’s NCAA tournament in Cincinnati about that — but that’s a whole ‘nother article.)
The Michigan hockey pep band is responsible for more than just introducing cheers to the crowd. It’s responsible for the marriage of Jennie and Pete Dalton.
“I got to Michigan in the fall of ’81,” says Pete. “I was in the marching band as a tuba player, and I found that there was a hockey pep band. All I wanted to do was go play my horn. It took me four or five years just to figure out what icing was. The program was not very good, and I didn’t know anything about hockey.
“Jennie, who I met in the hockey band, grew up in the U.P. [Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a land of forests and snow], where hockey is life. She was also in the marching band, [and] her perspective was, ‘You mean, all I have to do is be in the hockey band and I can get into the games for free?'”
Jennie says, “I grew up with the Michigan Tech band, where it was very competitive, freshmen don’t get tickets, you’re lucky to get standing room — it’s a real big deal to get to go to a game. As I was working my way through school, season tickets were so expensive that I didn’t figure I’d get to go to the games here.”
Pete joined the band to play; Jennie joined the band to see hockey. With a story like that, how can anyone complain about the fans at Yost? Well, some do.
“The students get out of hand, a little bit,” says Fred.
“I’d like people to know that we have some of the best non-profane hecklers in the sport,” says Hauessler. “Yost is known for the often too-obnoxious student section, but students come and go every year.
“There are some great ‘regular’ fans around Yost, many of whom started their days as students. These people are too often lumped in with the students when other folks talk (usually unflatteringly) about UM’s fan base. “I don’t mind other CCHA fans not liking us … but I’d rather they disliked us because we’re witty and our team happens to be winning, than dislike us because we’re jerks.
“Some fans are jerks and will always be jerks,” says Hauessler, “and they give the rest of us a bad name.”
News of Hauessler’s “wit” has spread beyond the confines of Yost. As editor and primary writer for D’Scream, he has made a name for himself as a funny man.
The first issue of D’Scream for the 1996-97 season is subtitled “Back by Popular Apathy Issue.” The issue of D’Scream produced for the weekend series against Miami was the “Where’s Kevyn Adams? Issue.” Adams left Miami before his senior season to pursue professional hockey, and not much has been heard from him since. (He’s currently playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL.)
On the subject of Miami’s mascot name change, Hauessler suggests “of Ohio.” “Then,” he writes, “when someone says, ‘Miami of Ohio,’ they’d actually be somewhat correct.”
Last season, Hauessler devoted an entire issue of D’Scream to senior Ohio State defenseman Craig Paterson. “Who else can hip-check like that in this league?” quipped Hauessler at the time. The issue rankled the coaching staff at Ohio State, who were heard to refer to Hauessler as “that jerk up in Michigan” as recently as January of this year.
Hauessler’s had tickets in the front row of Section D — er, Section 3 — since 1991-92. He started D’Scream one season ago.
“Section D is great because it’s familiar,” says Hauessler. “It’s largely comprised of veteran season-ticket holders, so you can count on seeing the same people from year to year. It’s geographically blessed in that we get to see the Michigan offense for two periods; that puts us in prime location for heckling the visiting goaltender.
“The Section D regulars would always say ‘hello’ to each other, but I think the inception of D’Scream has increased the chatter in the section. I don’t actually know everyone that sits in the section, but sometimes I feel like I do.”
These longtime fans all agree that the crowd is just as important as the team to their Michigan hockey experience.
“The crowd never gives up,” says Fred. “It could be 18 to nothing, and they’d still want more.”
Of course, the whole reason for the crowd is the Wolverine team, a team that plays good college hockey.
“The best thing,” says Fred, “is college hockey. It’s different than pro hockey. It’s a cleaner game. It’s a faster game to watch.”
Diane says, “The kids are here because they love the game. It’s not because they’re getting paid big bucks.”
While the players don’t see the big bucks, sometimes the fans get to see the evidence of the revenue generated by hockey. During the off-season last year, Yost Ice Arena underwent renovations that cost $5.5 million. Fans can see changes in the pro shop, concessions, rest rooms, locker rooms, and the lobby area. The press box is amazing, spanning the length of the building. With those renovations, all the “obstructed view” seating was swallowed; now every seat at Yost is a good one.
With 75 years of hockey at Michigan, a very recent NCAA Championship, a virtual guarantee of an appearance at this year’s tournament, and an improved Yost Ice Arena, it’s no wonder that Wolverine fans make all the noise they can.
And if you go to Yost, and you don’t like what you hear — well, you might just suck. Just ask them.