As soon as the puck drops, the Children of Yost make their presence felt. The stands are packed with maize and blue and the cowbells from section 17 ring throughout the arena. The students stand on their feet, and loudly run through a series of chants to intimidate Michigan’s opponents.
Or at least that would be the case in a normal year.
But in a season being played amid the COVID-19 pandemic there were bound to be sacrifices — and one of those is playing games with fans.
“It’s definitely gonna suck,” senior forward Dakota Raabe said. “Playing in Yost is what a lot of people come and play on Michigan for. It’s just because of the atmosphere here.”
Yost Arena has a capacity of 6,637 and is known as one of the most difficult places to play in college hockey. Last season, the Wolverines gave up an average of just 1.61 goals per game at home, compared to 2.38 per game on the road. The fans are essential in getting opponents out of their comfort zone.
The team will have to adjust to the new circumstances. While it will be different, the stadium won’t be completely empty. There will still be various arena noises and the goal horn.
It will be on the players though to build an atmosphere during games.
“We have to create our own energy,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I think that’s going to be really important.”
The team brings the intensity to practice by hyping each other up after a nice goal or big hit. Without fans, it’s on the team to stay engaged with key moments in the game the way the crowd would.
“(In practice), everyone’s up on their feet, yelling and screaming, you know, just whistling at guys like telling them good job,” senior defenseman Jake Gingell said. “So I think that’s just what needs to happen on the ice and on the bench, especially during games.”
The Wolverines are not complete strangers to playing in quiet settings. Early season games tend to draw lower attendance, as well as games played at smaller schools or over breaks. But a full season of this type of environment, especially for hotly contested conference games, will be very different.
“I think that’s going to be a big part of both teams,” Raabe said. “Just getting excited about those little details.”
The Children will be missed, especially in the absence of their pregame rituals. Playing “Hail to the Victors,” singing the Candian national anthem and other quirks that help make Yost such a unique experience will be gone this year. So too will the adrenaline boost that a stirring home crowd can provide.
“I think the home advantage is going to be kind of taken out.” Raabe said.
For Michigan to create their own excitement, they’ll have to drown out their surroundings. It will be weird, but the fact that there are games and a championship to compete for is motivation enough, regardless of who is there to watch. The background noise — or lack thereof — is not as important.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s one person in the building or we got 6,000 here,” Pearson said. “We have to create our own energy and excitement for every game.”
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