Hockey attendance record falls at Michigan Stadium
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The moment everyone was waiting for finally came during the third period, when fans at Michigan Stadium found out for certain they'd set a hockey attendance record.
Carl Hagelin, a Michigan forward, paused to savor the atmosphere.
"I think we all got goose bumps," Hagelin said. "It was just amazing to see all those people -- probably the loudest environment I've ever been in."
Hagelin scored two goals in the Wolverines' 5-0 victory over Michigan State on Saturday, but the final score was only part of what made this a memorable experience. The crowd, which filled the outdoor stadium's expansive bowl, set a world attendance record for a hockey game.
Michigan announced the attendance at 113,411 during a brief stoppage in play in the third period, although Mike Janela of Guinness World Records said his organization hadn't determined its official count yet. Janela did verify that the attendance was more than enough for a world record.
The previous mark for a hockey game was 77,803 at this year's world championship in Germany.
"Ten years from now, I'm probably going to remember the most fun I've ever had on the ice," Michigan State's Torey Krug said. "Look at these 22-year-old men and they're like little kids."
The game -- dubbed "The Big Chill at the Big House" -- took place nine years after the same two teams played another outdoor game at Michigan State's football stadium. Since then, the idea has been copied at the college level and by the NHL.
The huge crowd made this edition unique. The school's announced attendance would make this the largest crowd to see any sporting event at Michigan Stadium, surpassing the 113,090 for a football game earlier this year.
"I don't know where they found the new seats," cracked Michigan coach Red Berenson, whose normal home venue holds 6,637. "It's good for the state of Michigan. When you have a game like this in a state where the economy is bad, it gives you something to feel good about."
The "Big Chill" nickname was a bit of a misnomer, with the temperature in the low 40s at the beginning of the game. With the lines on Michigan's football field still clearly visible, the Olympic-sized rink stretched from one 15-yard line to the other. Instead of adding even more seats for fans, organizers kept the area around the ice clear so fireworks could be set off after goals and again after the game.
"We were in trouble if it rained," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "We could handle a little snow. In fact, I thought it would be kind of festive to have a little bit of snow, and temperatures -- we could really handle a fair variant of temperatures. Warmer was better for the ice, but we were going to be fine unless we had rain. Rain and sleet, that would have been dangerous for the players."
The sky was fairly clear when the Michigan band began performing in the north end zone before the start of the game. Then Jon Merrill opened the scoring with a shot from the point in the first period, and the crowd let loose with a roar normally reserved for touchdowns in this venue.
Microphones were placed close enough to the ice to amplify the normal hockey sounds of the puck hitting the boards and players skating swiftly back and forth, making it easier for those seated far away to feel like they were part of the action.
An Olympic-sized rink, which is wider than an NHL version, was used to make the sheet look a little less small on top of the football field.
Although wind and rough ice can always cause problems at events like this, the game wasn't too sloppy. Merrill added a second goal before the end of the first period, and then Hagelin added one in the second and another in the third. David Wohlberg completed the scoring for Michigan.
Shawn Hunwick finished with 34 saves for the Wolverines.
Brandon said the event is unlikely to become an annual tradition, but it could potentially be played in four-year cycles "in such a way that every student-athlete that plays hockey here could get a chance to participate in something like this."
Janela said Guinness would need a bit longer to come up with an official attendance figure, possibly using detailed photos of the crowd to make a final count. Guinness receives over 1,000 record applications a week, although only about three percent are approved.
"People really latch on to one I did in Mexico for the largest serving of roast pork -- over 3,000 pounds," Janela said. "I've always wanted to come to the Big House. I never thought it would be for a hockey game."