Saturday, September 30, 2023

Game shatters records, players expectations

October 8, 2001
Freshman forward Lee Falardeau wrestles with Michigan center John Shouneyla. —

Two things were expected going into “The Cold War” on Saturday at Spartan Stadium - it would be big and the game would be a close one.

After 74,554 MSU and Michigan fans spilled into the stadium’s stands and aisles, easily breaking the world record for attendance at a hockey game, that much came true.

And after overtime ended with a 3-3 tie, most of those fans gathered their blankets and hats and walked down the ramps to the concourse without a second thought that a game between two top-five teams should have ended any differently.

But it was unexpected factors - the crowd, the noise, the pregame hoopla, the lighting, the cold, the board and ice conditions - that made the night one the Spartan players and fans said they won’t soon forget.

“As soon as we walked out and everyone in the stands saw us, they just started going nuts,” senior right wing Adam Hall said. “They just kept getting bigger and going more and more crazy as the night went on. They kept us going.”

But before the crowd could cheer its team to a win, it had to battle just to get to its seats. Tighter security measures caused more congestion than at MSU football games. Everyone entering the stadium had their bags, blankets and backpacks checked, gridlocking the entrances.

Once in the stadium, no-preference sophomore Kristen McKenzie sat in the front row of the student section with the hockey cheering section, Slapshots. She painted her face green and white and made a sign at a pre-party that said “Hail to the Spartans.”

“I think this is great, it’s bringing so much attention to college hockey,” the first-year Slapshots member said. “It gets some notoriety, but not as much as football or basketball.”

But the MSU fans in the stadium were only concerned with hockey Saturday night.

Economics junior Jack Fischer proved that by braving the elements and painting his bare chest green with “MSU” written across it in white. He said he planned on sitting through the whole game topless - with temperatures in the mid-30s and all.

“It’s all about the hockey team,” he said. “If this is what I have to do to show my support, that’s fine.”

And on the ice, the players seemed to appreciate that support as they became acquainted with their temporary home.

“I have to admit, usually I try to keep everything in the rink, but tonight, I took a few peaks,” said Ryan Miller, the Hobey-Baker-Award-winning junior goaltender.

Both teams had chances to adjust to the ice conditions and try out the boards in pregame practice sessions.

MSU practiced Friday night in a misting rain, while U-M opted to stay in the warmth of Munn Ice Arena. Both teams had morning practices Saturday.

Hall said the conditions on the ice were far improved by face-off.

“Tonight was 100 percent better,” he said. “Yesterday it was kind of warm and soft, because of the rain. But today it was hard, smooth and a lot faster.”

But even if the ice seemed familiar, the frigid temperature and gusting wind didn’t.

Miller said he used his down time in the crease to skate small circles to keep his legs warm.

“My toes started to get cold and my fingertips,” said Miller, who ended the night with 19 saves.

But he said his body heat was about the only aspect of the game truly affected by the weather.

“The shots weren’t affected,” he said. “Those guys shoot pretty hard. That would have to be quite a gust of wind to affect it.”

And the coaching staffs agreed. Both MSU head coach Ron Mason and U-M head coach Red Berenson said once the game started, it was all about hockey.

“Once the puck dropped it was a hockey game,” Berenson said.

But the coaches and players still took a few moments to suck it all in; the 74,554 screaming fans, the open sky, the spouting fire torches around the rink, or the implications of the event for college hockey.

“I was going to enjoy the moment,” Mason said. “I think I enjoyed it as much as anyone in the building.”

It’s a good thing he did it while he could - an hour after the final buzzer, the ice was chopped, bulldozed and was being carried away, ending an event that was five years in the dreaming and nine months in the making.

And in the end, it was the crew of workers who organized and arranged the event that went home with the win - they were named first star of the night.

“Basically, tonight was a win for Michigan State University,” Mason said.


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