FAIRBANKS – Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena is known for being one of the toughest college hockey venues to play in, but the Wolverines got a taste of their own medicine at the Carlson Center this weekend.
After the Nanooks opened their season with a win and a tie against then-No. 1 Minnesota and a split with their rivals, Alaska-Anchorage, Fairbanks locals came out in full force for this weekend’s home-opening series. The games had two consecutive sellout crowds of 4,595.
While their attempts at “They Still Suck” and “C-Ya” cheers were feeble, during Friday night’s 4-2 Fairbanks victory, the Nanooks’ faithful made sure that the arena was one of the loudest that Michigan players have played at.
Upon arrival at the Carlson Center, one of the most noticeable differences was the glass that was more forgiving than the rigid glass at Yost Ice Arena. Not only did it amplify the sounds of hard hits in the game, but it also gave the fans makeshift drums to bang on in an effort to distract the visiting Wolverines and voice support for their beloved Nanooks – much like toddlers with pots and pans in their mother’s kitchen. Instead of the dull thud of harder glass at other rinks, the Carlson Center’s glass is more like a giant thunderstick with no volume control.
The pre-game introductions were a production. Nanook mascots – the team’s name is derived from the Inupiaq word for polar bear – dancing all over the ice, arena rock blaring from the speakers and the Fairbanks fans chanting “U-A-F” in unison while banging on the glass made it tough for anyone to hear his own thoughts.
Once Friday’s game began and the Nanooks assumed control with an early goal, it was tough for the Wolverines to climb back in an environment that was so supportive of its home team. Rather than exuding the hostile feeling that opponents experience in Ann Arbor, this crowd simply demonstrated pure love and support for the home team. And the Nanooks certainly fed off it.
But come Saturday night, the Wolverines managed to turn the tide. With sophomore Kevin Porter’s early goal, and a key stop by Michigan netminder Noah Ruden, the difference in the crowd was easily apparent.
“I thought it was a lot quieter (Saturday night),” senior captain Andrew Ebbett said. “Once we got that first goal and as soon as Ruden saved that penalty shot they died down. I think it was us getting the first goal and not giving them anything.”
While the fans stayed behind their team, the feeling was different. Fans began to concede that perhaps Michigan was a better team.
“Man, these Michigan guys are so much bigger and faster,” one Fairbanks fan sitting near the makeshift press box said. “Now I know why they are No. 1.”
But despite the 4-0 lead, fans stayed until the end to cheer their Nanooks off the ice, happy to earn a split against the nation’s No. 1 team.
Michigan also had a small contingent of fans at the game. Freshman Jack Johnson’s grandparents made the trip from Las Vegas to Fairbanks and a dozen members of the Seattle Alumni club came up and were pleased to see a Michigan victory and take a picture with Michigan coach Red Berenson on Saturday night.