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2010-06-07

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We Can't Hear You: The Story of the Children of Yost

Sam Wolson/Daily
Michigan celebrates after scoring during Michigan's 4-0 win against Notre Dame at Yost arena on February 25th 2010. Buy this photo

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 31, 2010

As the crowd filed through Yost Ice Arena's heavy wooden doors and spilled onto State Street, there was a feeling that this night, March 17, 1991 was a turning point.

It was the Michigan hockey team’s first year in the NCAA Tournament since 1977, and it had just won a decisive third game over Cornell to advance to the second round, just one series away from the Frozen Four. After years of mediocrity, Michigan coach Red Berenson had finally brought the program to the national stage.

Some Wolverine fans, and perhaps even some of the red-clad Cornell followers peppered in the masses exiting the building, realized this was a turning point outside the glass as well. They knew that this weekend was the beginning of the revival of the Michigan hockey program on and off the ice.

But they didn’t know that it would evolve into this.

Games at Yost have turned into a non-stop tirade against refs, the opposing team, its fans and, most importantly, its goalie. It starts before the first puck is dropped as fans tell referees to “check the net!" and after the official has done so, to “check it again!." The opposing player introductions are met with newspaper reading by the student section. And only after that does the crowd get rowdy.

The student section, dotted with celebrities like “the penguin guy” and “the guys dressed as Blues Brothers," extends the length of the arena, filling up the sections next to and behind both benches. It also spearheads the cheering effort of the 6,000-plus fans in the building, uniting the arena as one in order to tell the refs they suck, the opposing goalie he’s a sieve, and the opposing parents they are ugly — repeatedly.

“The kind of people who go to Yost are the kind of people that want to act like fools,” LSA junior Jamie Fogel said last month. “It’s, 'I’m going to come and act like an idiot. I’m going to dress like a penguin, I’m going to dress like Thomas the Tank Engine,' and it’s totally normal to do that.”

And when the game stops, the crowd keeps going. During intermission, the crowd tries to get a lucky seven-year old riding the zamboni to do poses that eventually results in taking his or her shoe off and throwing it on the ice. When the shoe goes flying, it is always met with a thunderous cheer. But that is just a warmup for the second intermission, which is highlighted by a rendition of the Blues Brothers song "Can't Turn You Loose" and has turned into a group dance for the entire student section.

With the volume, the intermission antics and the raucous multitude of mean-spirited chants comes the fact that these fans are some of the most knowledgeable college hockey fans in the country. The building will get just as loud for a good penalty kill as a goal, and they know a hand pass is legal in the defensive zone.

Most importantly, the fans have shown up game after game ever since that final game of Michigan’s three-game series with Cornell. Their dedication level has led to one of the most significant home-ice advantages in the country — the Wolverines have won 79 percent of their games at Yost since 1991.

“The dedication level, you can just kind of see it,” Engineering sophomore Rob Eckert said in May. “When you’re surrounded by passionate people, it’s hard not to catch on and always want to be there.”

So how did this happen? How did Yost become the most intimidating place to play in America?

Part of the final answer lies within the 3.7 million people who have walked through the Yost doors to support their beloved Wolverines. But it begins almost 40 years before many of today's fans were even born.

The Children Before the Children

Long before the Children of Yost had the rink vibrating with noise, the arena was housing footballs as the team's practice facility. The hockey — and the noise — was a few streets down, inside the Weinberg Coliseum (now the Sports Coliseum). It was there where then-coach Vic Heyliger created a simple method to put fans in the seats — win.

Six national championships brought the crowds in and Heyliger’s successor, Al Renfrew, kept the winning method going. By the time a young center from Saskatchewan named Red Berenson pulled the Michigan sweater over his head, supporters would line up all the way down Hill St. to try to be one of the approximately 2,000 lucky fans that squeezed into the building on gameday.

“It was a great environment for us.