Tailgating at Michigan State is the norm during football season, but rarely do you see Spartan fans bust out the grills for games at Munn Arena. With the Spartans in the Hockey City Classic in Chicago’s Soldier Field, the door opened for some old-fashioned parking lot tailgating.
Michigan State alumni and fans mixed in with contingents from Western Michigan, Miami of Ohio and University of Michigan with grills and heaters out in full force.
“There’s nothing like hockey outdoors, it’s an awesome thing,” said Robert Miller. “With Michigan State and Michigan playing (at Comerica) last year and now playing here, it’s going to be pretty fun.”
Miller, a graduate of the University of Illinois, started as a center for the Illini in the 70th Rose Bowl Game and only had to travel about 10 miles to get to today’s game.
“Sitting with this nice warm heater right next to me is pretty awesome,” Miller said.
Todd Collins, a 1990 Michigan State graduate, had to travel a little further coming from Aurora, Ill., but is still part of the large alumni presence Michigan State has in the area.
In his time at Michigan State, Collins worked as a ticket-taker at Munn Arena for two years.
“It’s a unique environment and facility,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to get a lot of the Chicago alumni to see games that they probably don’t get to see by traveling over to East Lansing.”
With the start time of the game pushed back to 9:40 p.m. EST, it allowed more time to tailgate for some of the fans who got to the parking lot early like Ryan Zimberg and Meghan Noonan, both Spartan alumni, who started tailgating around four in the afternoon.
“It’s one of the best rivalries in Michigan, let alone college hockey,” said Zimberg. “It’s an opportunity to support my team even though I’ve been removed from college a couple years.”
Even a former Michigan State hockey player managed to battle the elements to tailgate.
Paul Hruby played for the Spartans from 1956-1959. In his last season, the Spartans made the Frozen Four in Troy, N.Y. Michigan State beat Boston College 4-3 to get to the championship game, where they fell in overtime 4-3 to North Dakota.
“I am very supportive of Michigan State as a member of the Spartan fund,” he said. “It’s a great occasion. It’s great to bring them to Chicago.”
Hruby talked about the atmosphere that surrounded his team, who played at Demonstration Hall at the time, when he donned the green and white.
“Oh my god you can’t believe the crowd,” Hruby said. “We had such good backing. I remember that you had to pay to go to a hockey game but basketball was free yet people were standing in line to get into the hockey rink.”
In his time, Hruby had some memorable games against the Wolverines.
“I remember Amo (Bessone) booked us to play in Albuquerque, N.M. in 1957,” he explained. “We also played in Tucson, AZ. during the Christmas holidays with the Michigan team and we traveled together. Big game, a dinky rink but it we played.”
The stadium is ready and the fans will be too when the puck drops a few hours after originally planned in what is turning out to be a very big conference game for both teams.
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports