Saturday was a sad, sad day.
Yes, you read that right: The day when everyone woke up at 6:00 a.m. and drank like there was no tomorrow was bittersweet, at best.
But all the puking, fighting and general debauchery that may or may not have happened had very little bearing on the final evaluation of my last St. Patty’s Day on campus.
Instead, it was, and will always be marked as the day I said goodbye to a friend – Yost Ice Arena.
Michigan’s CCHA quarterfinal series wrapped up Saturday night, and with a win, Michigan advanced to the semifinals, held at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Since the Wolverines won by nine goals the night before, it was pretty much a formality that they’d head to the Championship Weekend for the 19th straight season. That also meant this would be the last home game of the season, and for me and hundreds of other seniors in attendance, the last home game of our collegiate careers.
With the outcome all but predetermined, fans like myself could concentrate on what’s really important: being loud, belligerent and obnoxious.
Considering the amount of Jameson and green beer in my system, I figured that wouldn’t be a problem for me or any other student.
With that said, it was far from a Hunter S. Thompson-esque performance on my part. After revisiting blurry memories of junior-year games that began with pre-game power hours, I concluded I probably wouldn’t remember too much from my Yost swan song if I fully immersed myself in Saturday’s special Pope-ordered green-beer day. Still, entering the university’s most intimidating venue stone-cold sober is like heading into an exam without a blue book – it’s not a good idea.
Once I safely arrived with only an occasional stumble, it didn’t take long for me to start reminiscing on past Yost experiences.
Junior Brandon Naurato’s early breakaway tally reminded me of the instant offense provided by past Wolverines like T.J. Hensick, Andrew Cogliano and Eric Nystrom provided.
The fans’ attempts to get in Mavericks forward Mick Lawerence’s head was both funny and effective – and the first “Cya” chant brought back fond memories of the first time I heard the expletive-laced chorus four years ago.
And once the first ‘Ugly parents’ chant came after Nebraska-Omaha scored its lone goal of the night, it brought what I thought was a tear to my eye. I later found out it was just slobber coming from the angry drunk fan behind me, but still, it was emotional. I guess you had to be there.
The real highlight of the night came midway into the second period. Freshman Aaron Palushaj ignited the Yost crowd after running into Nebraska-Omaha’s netminder and set off a 10-player brawl. The punches and shoves from the players on the ice were great, but come on, that’s not a Yost-specific phenomenon. I had seen plenty of fights between the Muskegon Fury and their rivals at the L.C. Walker Arena when I was introduced to the game as a snot-nosed youngster.
I can safely say Saturday night’s events never happened in Muskegon, though.
While the post-fight discipline was being sorted out, a Michigan fan headed over to the Nebraska-Omaha parent section. Less than a minute after being labeled ugly by the student section, one Maverick parent decided to tell the Wolverine fan to leave. Verbal suggestions probably didn’t work out too well, because the parent began using his hands to get the message across, and I’m not talking about sign language.
The student section busted out a ‘Cya’ chant on cue to send the soon-to-be-ejected Maverick fan out in style, and the entire Yost crowd went nuts. The momentum Nebraska-Omaha had picked up just a minute before by scoring was completely gone once the puck was dropped, and Michigan cruised to victory.
And it’s those moments that I’ll remember the most from Yost. Sure, the wins on the ice were great, but I’ll remember Big Jack’s last dance before any Chad Kolarik hat trick. I’ll remember the pre-game drinking games and the post-game celebrations more than the in-game X’s and O’s (assuming I didn’t pre-game too hard, that is).
And I’ll remember the most unified and intimidating student section on campus more than I’ll remember any CCHA title. The wins are great, but it’s the experience that made my trips to Yost more enjoyable than those to any other venue on campus – and yes, I know there’s a football stadium a couple blocks down the street.
Football has the results. Basketball has the organization. But hockey has both. Take advantage of it while you can, because it will be gone before you know it.
– Bell can be reached at email@example.com.