Last week I was able to experience something many hockey fans in Canada are not able to be a part of. I am not talking about a Stanley Cup championship, but an NCAA hockey game. Growing up in Ontario, I have gone to many Major Junior hockey and Tier 2 games. Let’s just say the experience at the games I have gone to in Ontario are not exactly the same as the ones in the NCAA. It’s not that the atmosphere in the Ontario Hockey Games is not exciting, it’s just the crowd in most rinks are a little dull. Some rinks in the OHL are exciting such as London and Windsor, but these are very rare. London is a major market with a large population and the organization knows how to market the team properly in the community. It always helps when you can field a winning team almost every season.
The majority of arenas in the OHL like Barrie or the GTA teams rarely sell out. The people going to these games are the types of fans who would not put fear into any opposition. Most of the crowds are either young children or baby boomers. There are almost no signs in the crowds and no chants of any sorts. When the home teams score about only half the team’s crowd even stands up or looks excited. I think people in some of these communities take for granted the skill level of the players in Major Junior. I also think a lot of the teams are not marketing towards the right people. They should be targeting the college and university students who will bring some excitement to the buildings.
While I was driving to Ann Arbor to watch the University of Michigan play, I started wondering if I really had to drive this far just to experience a great hockey atmosphere. I realized that yes I did have to drive that far because the College game is like nothing Canada can offer. Before the game everyone in the town is talking about the game and you can just feel a buzz around the rink. The Yost arena is one of the oldest rinks in the whole country with a rich tradition. The teams that have played over the years in that barn have showcased many future NHL players such as Brendan Morrison, John Madden and Marty Turco. The crowds are usually not disappointed very often as their team usually ends up winning on most nights.
The one thing that I was very surprised with while visiting the Yost was that they do not serve alcohol at the games. I thought there was no way these fans could not have had a couple drinks in them to be this into the game. In Ontario you can buy beer at the games, but it seems to have no effect on the crowd. Maybe the school just feels it would get too out of hand if everyone was intoxicated and there would be too many underagers trying to buy beer. Either way even without a beer in my hand while watching the game the atmosphere was something I can’t even describe. There was a school band on one side of the rink. There was also chants that the crowd would all say together every time the referee made a bad call or the opposing team let a goal in. Everyone was actually paying attention to the game and the hockey was very intense. The NCAA is probably the dirtiest hockey around mainly due to the fact the players must wear face protection. There are players getting slashed and cross checked all over the the ice. There would have been a penalty every two minutes if it was the National Hockey League.
Obviously it’s a big advantage having a school population the size that Michigan has, but still even the people who are not students are very much involved in the atmosphere of the beloved Yost. It is a place every hockey fan should experience at least once and especially those who live and watch hockey in Canada because we do not have this anywhere and probably never will.