My first introduction to Michigan State hockey was in a little restaurant in South Haven, Mich. on April 9, 2007. During the waning hours of my birthday I watched with amazement as the Spartans overcame Boston College 3-1 to win the national championship. As I walked out of that restaurant into the cold rainy night I knew in my heart that I wanted to go to Michigan State, and I wanted to watch pulse-pounding hockey games in a great environment with lots on the line.
Fast forward to 2015. Much has changed since then, but the environment and the fandom surrounding Michigan State hockey is starting to come back to life.
Last year, Munn Ice Arena would only see a packed house for the annual Michigan game. Other than that, attendance would be hovering in the 5,000 range, even less so for games held over spring break. It should have been expected. The team was not playing well, and the atmosphere at Munn was just subpar most nights.
But since the calendar has turned to 2015, Munn has become a formidable place to play.
Six times the Spartans have played a conference home game at Munn, and six times they have garnered at an attendance of more than 6000. The team’s recent, albeit modest, success has drawn the hockey faithful of East Lansing back to Munn Ice Arena.
The building has been jumping with more fans who are more engaged than in years past. When the PA announcer yells “Go Green!” after a Spartan goal, the fans cheer a rousing “Go White!” And when the PA man announces the final minute of regulation, the students yell “Thank you!” to which they hear a robust “You’re Welcome!” over the loudspeaker.
Of course the new video boards make Munn a more enjoyable and modern gameday atmosphere, but the real reason the attendance has increased is because of the product on the ice.
The heroic play of Spartan junior netminder Jake Hildebrand has been a wonder to see and has earned him a standing ovation on more than one occasion. Seeing sophomore forward, Joe Cox, willingly take physical punishment mesmerizes and inspires the crowd. To see them go down and score a goal because of that sacrifice only adds to the euphoria. Whatsmore, the entire team as a whole is giving people an incentive to come to Munn, because they the green and white are showing that the end of the tunnel might not be so far off as some had feared.
Last Saturday, I saw something I never thought I would see at Munn– 6,994 in attendance watching MSU skate to first place in the Big Ten with only one weekend series remaining.
With success comes confidence, and with confidence comes belief. The team believes they can have success and now so do the fans. Make no mistake, the atmosphere at Munn is not at its full potential. When there is not an empty seat in the house every night, when student tickets are worth their weight in gold, and when coming to Munn is dreaded by opposing teams then the atmosphere will have reached it’s full potential.
In order to get there you need everyone (the fans, the students, and the Munn staff) working in conjunction and striving for a better fan experience. It is starting to happen, and it is all the more reason to believe in green.
Jason Ruff is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports.
Photo: Scott Wasserman / Impact Sports