They come to Yost Ice Arena every week. Some for five years, some for 10, and for John Sterbenz and Craig Kuras, 24. There’s a mayor — Tony Corey, a season ticket holder since 2004. You can’t forget the children, either — not literal adolescents, but the Michigan hockey team’s famous student section, “The Children of Yost.”
They came this past Friday night, when they watched the Michigan hockey team cling to a slim lead and upset No. 11 Ohio State. They returned on Saturday and saw the Buckeyes climb back from a two-goal deficit to win, 6-5.
The weekend serves as a microcosm of Michigan’s inconsistency this season.
After one of the Wolverines’ best years in recent memory, many expected regression in 2016.
Added Travis Smith, a senior engineering major: “We understand that we’re not gonna be great every year, we’re not like the Alabama football team.”
But some fans still held high hopes before the season began.
“You expect them to compete every year for at least a Big Ten title,” Sterbenz said Friday night. “In the past, you would lose guys and that didn’t seem to matter. There was always enough firepower in the arsenal to replace those people. Over the past 3-4 years, there’s still the firepower there, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as potent as it used to be.”
For “The Children of Yost,” those overhauls certainly have led to a different feel to it than last season’s Big Ten Tournament championship team.
“People come to every game no matter what,” said LSA senior Barry Snyder. “The big difference you see is with the other people. You have the multiple sections, they’re always full, but it’s a matter of timing. Especially last year, they were packed 30-40 minutes before the game started. In previous years, it was a little slower, and this year it’s been a little slower. But the rivalry games have been filled up like this (on Saturday night). Last night there was a line outside before the doors even opened. I think the fans are still into it.”
As for long-time season ticket holders, the biggest difference — whether in terms of energy or atmosphere — has nothing to do with the Wolverines’ performance. Instead, it comes from the recent renovation of the arena. The remodel shrunk the student section, which originally stretched from red line to red line.
While few of the current students have had an opportunity to sit in the old environment, many of the longtime fans have recognized the effects of the smaller section.
Corey — the Twitter famous “Mayor of Yost” — believes he has missed just a handful of games in the last 13 years. He believes that the Yost renovations have changed how the students and players interact.
“Ever since they redid the arena, they moved the students away from the glass in the student section,” Corey said on Saturday. “And I think that’s made a big difference. The students aren’t right on the glass, right on the ice. It’s a shame, because that’s really what made Yost what it was. I feel like since they added the corner, the students just aren’t in the players’ faces. It separated the team from the ice and the students. It’s not as loud as it used to be, I think that’s partially because when I was a student, this whole side was all students.”
According to the leaders of “The Children of Yost,” however, the energy hasn’t gone anywhere — there just might be fewer fans.
“Obviously the offense isn’t scoring as much, so we’re not screaming after goals as much,” said LSA fifth-year senior Melanie Lowry. “But the energy is still there. We want the team to know that we’re still there for them. We can be down by five, and we’re still going to be yelling.”
Added Snyder: “When you’re playing better, it’s not just the students who are getting into it, but it’s the non-students, the people sitting on the other side of the arena, they’re getting into it. Students are there, they’re gonna be there no matter what. We can’t control what the non-students do, we do our part to be there. We only have four years.”
So while Michigan ended the weekend on a sour note, “The Children of Yost” refuse to be discouraged. They’ll be back next Friday in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. Sterbenz and Kuras will be there too, and of course, so will “The Mayor of Yost.”
“We pride ourselves on being the best Michigan sports environment, winning or losing,” Snyder said. “I think there’s a lot of people that come to one game and keep coming back.”
It was the case for Sterbenz, who attended his first game after hearing about it from friends at work. Just as it was for Smith, who went to a game his freshman year and has continued to follow collegiate and NCAA hockey.
And this season is the perfect indication — it’s been the case for many of the fans that walk through the doors of Yost.