One hockey fan's journey to the arenas of North America
Yost Ice Arena - Home of the Michigan Wolverines
January 24, 2019 - Ann Arbor, Michigan
The world of college hockey is full of arenas that are must-see destinations in and of themselves. Yost Ice Arena, on University of Michigan's expansive campus, is not only a venue near the top of most college hockey fan's bucket lists, but is near the pinnacle of arenas in the entire spectrum of hockey that fans have on their must-see lists. Having opened in 1923, the building looks old and majestic, with a dark brick exterior that has ornate trim and lots of architecturally pleasing elements including rounded windows and large thick doors that look like they belong on a church. A large, round brick chimney points skyward from near the middle of the building, protruding above the arena's metal roof. The arena sits next to the campus baseball stadium, not far from from "The Big House", college football's largest stadium. Being on the edge of campus there is actually a working class residential neighborhood across the street from the arena. At first glimpse Yost ice Arena is impressive, and has that iconic look of a classic venue. The history of Yost Ice Arena as a hockey venue does not date nearly as far back as the arena's opening, as Yost played host to Wolverines basketball and track until being converted into an ice arena in 1973, so, although the building itself is one of the older ice arena's in the world, it's lifespan as a hockey venue dates back less than half a century. Wolverines hockey is a tradition, and the team is well supported. In looking back at the history of Michigan hockey, and Yost Ice Arena, the team has claimed an impressive 9 NCAA titles, but only a pair of crowns since Yost opened, both in the mid 1990's. Ann Arbor is a Big Ten town, and the feeling of smugness and self importance of the school's athletic teams is evident here, like in other Big Ten cities. We secured a ticket online for this Thursday night contest against divisional rival Penn State for $30. Clearly Big Ten hockey is overpriced, and only the Hockey East schools in greater Boston come close to the ticket prices here, which seem a bit excessive. Despite the price, games frequently sell out here, and Michigan is clearly a state that supports hockey in a big way. The tradition of Wolverines sports is known across the country, and you can't help but appreciate the local love for the maize and blue. Yost Ice Arena is the type of building that exudes character and feels like a special place even if there were no game going on. When coupling the design and charm of the arena with the enthusiastic support from students and fans, catching a game at Yost Ice Arena certainly produces the opportunity for an excellent fan experience.
Fans entering Yost Ice Arena on game night can access the arena through a few different entrances. The main box office entrance is on the end of the building, and the front lobby features museum-like displays with memorabilia from Wolverine teams of the past. A stuffed wolverine sits in a trophy case just inside the main entrance, as the school apparently had a live mascot in the past. The lobby features a couple of food concession stands but also extensive displays honoring past players and teams. The concourse runs underneath the grandstands, and features further food concessions as well as displays honoring past Wolverine Olympians, NHL'ers, and even a display outlining the history of Yost Ice Arena itself, outlining the various renovation changes over the years, including the most recent one which finds the building have a capacity of 5800, down from earlier configurations of the arena. There are a pair of well stocked merchandise stands peddling Wolverine gear, and also displays to past Hobey Baker award winners and even a timeline of the various uniforms worn by the team over the years. The arena itself features a 4 grandstand design, with only suite seating in the corners. The high arching ceiling is held in place by metal rafters, and a large video board hangs above center ice. Seating is comprised of aluminum benches for the most part, a choice we generally dislike in hockey venues as they seem cheap and take away from the architectural character that the brick design holds. The seating on the ends of the ice extend higher than the side seating, with the lobby end section having 30 rows of blue plastic benches. The other end has 18 rows of aluminum benches. Seating on the sides features 17 rows of benches on one side and 14 on the other, and the upper rows have an obstructed view of the scoreboard due to balconies which hang down from above containing suite and luxury seating as well as the metal roof supports extending up through those sections. Yost Ice Arena feels larger than its 5800 capacity, and has a big time feel to it. If not for the cheapness in the appearance of the aluminum seating the venue has the feel of a mid-century arena and you can almost picture wooden seats and an organist playing the well known Michigan fight. The pitch of the seating offers a good view of the action from nearly every section, and you can feel the tradition inside the arena.
Attending a Michigan Wolverines game at Yost ice Arena is all about fun and tradition. The iconic architecture makes it a joy to watch a game here, as the ornate windows are in view from most seats, and the high arching ceiling has a classic look. The venue's old bones aren't the only thing that exudes character and tradition here though, as the presentation is largely student and band driven, and the atmosphere in the building is largely dictated by the crowd, and primarily emanates form the corner where the student section and band are situated. Known as The Children of Yost, the student section is animated and focused throughout the entire game, and is well organized with their chants and antics. From the unfurling of a huge banner honoring legendary coach Red Berenson before the game starts to the student section singing O Canada, they drive the experience of the rest of the fans on hand. Heckles of the opposing goalie are on point, and the students clearly act as a 6th skater rooting the Wolverines on. The band is excellent, and Hail Michigan is perhaps the most well know fight song in college sports. Intermissions feature additional entertainment, including synchronized skating and a fan shootout. As you would expect in big time college sports the presentation is also somewhat commercialized with ads on the video board and quite a few corporate mentions throughout the contest. Banners hanging from the ceiling honor past teams, and there is just something about watching a game here and going home later to tell your friends in your home town across the hockey landscape that you went to a Michigan Wolverines game at Yost that just seems more special than the average college hockey game. The Wolverine fans had a lot to cheer about on this Thursday evening as Michigan claimed a 5-1 win over Penn State. Sure, catching a game at RIT, Cornell, or St. Lawrence can be just as much fun as watching Michigan skate at Yost, and costs a whole lot less, but there is certainly something to be said about the aura of Michigan hockey. Yost Ice Arena has been referred to as a hockey cathedral, and it is hard to argue with that description as from the moment you approach the iconic brick building and enter through the thick wooden church-like doors you are in for a solid and traditional hockey experience.