For about two hours Saturday, a group wearing green and white was the most popular team in Yost Ice Arena.
It definitely wasn’t that team off I-69. Instead, it was a senior-laden group of Warriors from about 30 minutes east of Ann Arbor. The College Hockey America Champion Wayne State Warriors entered this weekend’s regional as heavy underdogs – especially considering the Warriors were going up against the regional’s top seed in Colorado College, also the second-best team in the nation.
But as a scoreless game went longer and longer into the first period, momentum started fueling for Wayne State. Many of the Michigan fans who were just sitting through Saturday’s first game to make sure they got their money’s worth began to side with the slower-footed, but harder-hitting Warriors. Chants of “Let’s go Warriors!” began to circulate, and traditional Yost cheers were converted to root for Wayne State instead of Michigan.
“Ug-ly par-ents” was still heard – despite it not being Michigan that was scored on – throughout when the Tigers scored their first goal to take the lead at the 16:26 mark of the first period. And when Wayne State senior defenseman Keith Stanich scored the tying goal 4:51 into the second period, Wayne State earned winged helmets in the minds of the Michigan faithful as the place erupted as if Michigan’s Jed Ortmeyer had done it.
“To get the first one and to start the emotion and get the guys going on the bench is an incredible feeling,” Stanich said.
For others, this was a chance to make moments in a bigger in-state venue.
“Being from Michigan, I was loving the fact that Michigan fans were rooting for us and actually started cheers for us,” said Wayne State co-captain and Trenton resident Jason Durbin. “They welcomed us with open arms. I was extremely ecstatic to get the chance to play in this tournament and especially to play in this rink.”
Even Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson said that normally he isn’t big fan of the “sieve” chant, but he did enjoy it when it was used against Colorado College goaltender Curtis McElhinney.
Though Wayne State did not win Saturday, as Colorado College eventually pulled away for a 4-2 win, those at Yost appreciated seeing a No. 4 seed actually come to play well against a top seed. No other regional had as close of a game between the one and four seeds.
“I’d like to start by complimenting Wayne State on how hard and how well they played,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “We knew it would be a battle. They were stronger on their sticks and played well.”
After the game, and before Owens could praise the Warriors in the post-game press conference, all of Yost was on its feet to give the unknowns from Wayne State a 30-second standing ovation.
That was quickly followed by resounding boos and chants of “over-rated” for the Tigers as they left the ice.