OXFORD – A typical Yost Ice Arena crowd fills in just minutes before the opening faceoff, even for the biggest games of the season.
But Ben Bauer, a student at Miami (Ohio), got in line for a ticket to Friday night’s mega-hyped game between No. 2 Michigan and the top-ranked RedHawks 27 hours before the doors even opened.
The junior set up a tent outside Steve Cady Arena around 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, leaving the line just twice – once for class and once for a shower. Other than that, his weekend was completely immersed in Miami hockey.
Bauer, along with approximately 60 tents full of diehard RedHawk fans, made up what became known as Ricoville, named for Miami coach Enrico Blasi. The students waited all day Thursday and Friday for one of about 2,000 free student section tickets given out for each game. Blasi made a point to visit the waiting fans, bringing them pizza Thursday night to show his gratitude for their dedication.
“Watching them is really exciting, because they’re just playing so well right now,” said Bauer, donning a Miami sweater and an anticipatory grin minutes before the doors were opened Saturday night. “And there’s been a lot more interest in this weekend. Everybody hates Michigan. It’s a huge rivalry.”
Bauer, a mechanical engineering major, said the hype on campus grew to a frenzied level he had never seen before.
With the RedHawks coming off a bye week heading into the Michigan series, the athletic department hyped the game around Oxford, hanging “Beat the State of Michigan Week” posters in store windows.
“At Michigan, the students go crazy for Michigan hockey,” Blasi said. “And, Miami’s getting there. The students are having fun, and they’re enjoying the season as well.”
The student section was excited for Friday night’s game, but the Wolverines’ four-goal first period quickly took the wind out of its sails.
Even with the disappointing 4-2 loss, Bauer and most of Ricoville got right back in line following the game for Saturday’s tickets. Bauer estimated he spent 40 hours at Steve Cady Arena over the weekend.
In Saturday night’s third period, when Miami came back from a two-goal deficit, Ricoville’s patience finally paid off, as the students witnessed arguably the most exciting 20 minutes of hockey this season.
The student section, which surrounded the Michigan zone for the first and third periods of both games, pelted Michigan goalie Billy Sauer with relentless “sieve” chants. Fans were jumping, dancing, yelling and willing the RedHawks to the comeback, and the Wolverines looked flustered and timid down the final stretch.
“The students were everything we hoped for and more,” RedHawk forward Nathan Davis said. “During that third period when we tied it up, that was about as loud as any crowd for any game I’ve ever been a part of.”
Although Miami has always had a loyal fanbase, the passion surrounding this year’s team has grown to unprecedented levels.
A 25-4-1 record and a unanimous No. 1 national ranking – although that is likely to change after the Wolverines took three of four points this weekend – usually does that for a program.