Traffic cones are everywhere in Ann Arbor.
Take a drive up Division, Packard, State or pretty much any street within a country mile of campus, and you’re bound to come across a few hundred bright orange pylons blocking off a lane or two. Alternatively, walk into a house along one of those streets, and you’ll most likely find a couple cones that have been borrowed from the road out front.
So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one eventually ended up on the ice at Yost Ice Arena last year.
Even in the frigid depths of Michigan winters, college hockey generally plays second fiddle to basketball. Basketball gets primetime tip-offs on ESPN and CBS, while hockey is relegated to fuzzy streams on BTN+ or an obscure Duluth-based regional network you didn’t even know came with your DirecTV subscription.
None of that matters to the Children of Yost. Over the years, they’ve earned a reputation as one of the rowdiest student sections in college hockey, built on unparalleled levels of referee slander, goaltender abuse and X-rated chants. When the Wolverines are at home, the Children transform a 97-year-old barn into the most electric building on campus.
That unmatched atmosphere is central to the beauty of the weird, niche culture surrounding college hockey.
For some, like engineering senior Matt Parker, college hockey is something they’re born into. Parker grew up in a hockey-crazed household full of Michigan grads, so joining the Children was a no-brainer.
“There really isn’t a student section like hockey,” Parker said. “You know, I’ve been to basketball games, I’ve been to hockey games, obviously, and I’ve been to football games and various other sports, but there’s nothing as energetic (that) feels like as much of a family as the hockey student section does.”
Other members joined the Children with the complete opposite perspective. LSA junior Emily Solecki entered college without any experience attending live sporting events.
“I distinctly remember the first game I walked into at Yost,” Solecki said. “I was just shocked by how loud the Children of Yost were, and I knew that I had to keep coming back. … It was just so awesome just being in their presence.”
The Children follow a sport with far from universal appeal, yet they still manage to attract members from a vast array of backgrounds. That certainly can’t hurt when trying to find new and creative ways to insult opposing teams, like distributing a spreadsheet with embarrassing information from every player’s social media before each game.
Do they go overboard sometimes? Definitely. But even when they do, the planning that goes into it is impressive.
Remember the traffic cone throw? That saga began weeks before, when now-graduated kinesiology student John Bartman saw that some of the hockey players had built a snowman with a traffic cone on its head in front of their house. He brought it up to kinesiology fifth-year Alex Harwood, and together, they hatched a plan.
“We ended up making the decision that, fan choice night, our choice as fans was to bring cones into the game,” Harwood said. “Because if there was somehow a hat trick, they were going on the ice.”
So, Feb. 7 against Wisconsin, Bartman and several other students brought traffic cones, ready to fire if a Michigan player managed to score three goals. Seeing what was ahead, arena staff started to confiscate cones, but, according to Harwood, “things were used to hide a cone.” I didn’t inquire further.
Late in the second period, then-freshman forward Nick Granowicz scored his second goal. Bartman and Harwood grinned at each other in anticipation. When Granowicz netted the hat trick midway through the third, Bartman sent the cone flying. He was (justifiably) removed from the arena shortly thereafter, but he’d already made his stamp on history.
Here it is from another angle:
That, right there, is college hockey. It’s weird. It’s creative. It’s a bit irresponsible.
But I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun to watch.
Roose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrendanRoose.