If Yost Ice Arena could talk, it would save its stories of unparalleled drama and celebration for the weekend. It would tell stories of Hobey Baker winners and National Championships and future NHL stars.
But it’s never seen a winning streak like this before. The Wolverines have won 19 straight at Yost and 20 straight at home, counting the win over Michigan State in The Big Chill at the Big House. The home winning streak is the program’s longest ever.
But during the week, Yost is a completely different place.
Coaches’ voices echo to each unoccupied corner of the historic venue as the Wolverines practice. Nine National Championship banners hang from the rafters, serving as the lone reminders that these walls are home to a special program.
In the old brick building, the dark concourses and worn metal bleachers are cold, lonely places during the week.
When the weekend rolls around, Yost comes alive. And all of its intricacies tantalize the fans, from the wide-eyed youngster taking in his first game, to the old alumnus filled with stories from decades past. Even the smell of Yost — a distinct aroma that every regular can identify — seems more pronounced when it’s hockey night in Ann Arbor.
In the midst of the program’s longest home winning streak of all time, the small things that make Yost a special place are appreciated by Michigan’s players and coaches, as much as by its fans.
But Yost wasn’t always the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights in the winter.
“When I first came here, you could sit anywhere you wanted,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, who started coaching in 1984. “Finally, we got that turned around and generated more interest. Then the students got into it and the fans got into it and it just took off.”
Today, scalpers seem reluctant to let their prized tickets go to anyone not wearing maize and blue. Berenson recalls some embarrassing series against rivals in which Michigan fans were in the minority.
“We filled the building for Michigan State, but more than half the people were from Michigan State,” Berenson said. “It was insulting, really, to the Michigan people.”
Berenson describes the process that forever changed Yost as an education. After becoming aware of the impact fan bases can have on a game’s outcome, the students pulled together to restore honor to one of the sport’s most storied programs.
During their time as Wolverines, skaters forge relationships with the venue. It becomes a home — a safe haven that treats its kind well. And its intruders are met with immediate hostility.
“When you’re a team or a player, when you have confidence in a certain building … part of it is because of the environment,” Berenson said. “Whether it’s the student section or the band or the overall rink or all of the above, it’s been a positive thing for this hockey program for a long time.”
The nurturing atmosphere that Yost has provided isn’t tangible. From the outside, the building on State Street doesn’t look like a hockey arena.
Inside, though, it’s hallowed ice. As Berenson puts it, if you want to play in most state-of-the-art arena, you should look elsewhere.
When he brings recruits inside the arena, he’s helping them find a potential home for four years — a supportive environment that will cheer you at your worst and make your opponents wish they’d stayed home.
These recruits may also be finding their family.