Years from now, when people ask where you were on the night of Oct. 6, 2001, you might be able to say you were with a few other people--74,554 others--witnessing history.
It is poetic justice that one of the best hockey games ever--college or pro--ended in a tie on the ice. The victors are the tens of thousands of fans lucky enough to have tickets to have seen it.
By the time the University of Michigan Wolverines and the MSU Spartans left their ice-sheeted stage in MSU's football stadium at about 10:30 Saturday night, you could sense 75,000 people collectively catch their breath.
As intense and exciting as any game pitting the two in-state rivals, it was the kind of game where you sat and stood as the players flew up and down the ice in rushes. Your stomach knotted when you saw the opponents deke each other then smack shots toward the goalies. Your voice grew hoarse from cheering and yelling at the players to pass to the open man or shoot or at the refs for calling a bad penalty.
And your eyes grew wide when you saw icers flip and heard the thunks of full body checks against the boards of the temporary rink.
"I've never seen teams hit each other that hard," says Ron Pudduck of Dexter, Michigan.
Though the Wolverines snatched a tie from the jaws of victory, Coach Red Berenson's young team refused to back down from the favored MSU Spartans, who are ranked first in the nation. Twice the Wolverines took leads against a highly regarded Spartan defense and a goalie who will be playing in the NHL perhaps as soon as next year. Twice the Spartans erased them, the last with just 47 seconds left in the third period.
Perhaps it was inexperience that prevented the Wolverines from clearing the puck into an empty MSU net that allowed MSU Freshman Jim Slater to snap a quick shot over Goalie Josh Blackburn's shoulder to end what many thought was an improbable UM victory.
Michigan's Jay Vancik (15) and Mike Komisarek, center left, fight for control of the puck with Michigan State's Jim Slater (19) and Brian Maloney, left rear, during the second period Saturday, Oct. 6, 2001, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Perhaps it was something else that ended the drama of the largest outdoor hockey game ever.
Not since the Russians beat the Swedes in an open air stadium in the 1957 World Championships in Moscow had this many people sat in the cold sipping hot chocolate and coffee to watch an outdoor hockey game.
The CCHA battle between the two schools had all the atmosphere of an NFL Superbowl, including a concert during the first intermission and a laser-light show during the second.
Tailgaters, who arrived as early as 8 a.m. to get the best spots, began packing up their cold cuts and beer around 6 p.m. The stadium was ringed with booths selling MSU apparel and programs. As the ocean of students and fans crowded like sardines into the gates of MSU stadium, you could hear partisan chants: "Go Green. Go White." And "Go Blue!"
Inside you could buy "Cold War" hats, t-shirts and pucks.
NHL Great Gordie Howe dropped the puck in a ceremony right before the start of the game. Karen Newman, who sings the national anthem at Detroit Red Wings' games, belted out The Star Spangled Banner to cheers and chants of "USA! USA!"
And you could hear the wind above the stadium when all 75,000 people bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.
There were plenty of Michigan fans in Spartan country. In the north endzone a sign read: "Welcome to Yost West" after UM's home arena.
As Karen Hixson and her husband, UM Hockey fans who bought their tickets as soon as the game was announced in June, led an entourage of 22 family members to their seats, they sported the familiar Maize and White sweaters of Michigan hockey. Karen Hixson said her brother drove in from Iowa to watch the Wolverines.
And the Hixsons live in Lansing.
"Of course I'd like to see a Michigan victory," says Hixson. "But this is kind of tough territory. But you can't rule out a Michigan victory."
When MSU senior forward Adam Hall redirected a pass for a power play goal at 3:25 of the first period, the field lit up in a fiery whoosh from six pyrotechnic boxes. The Wolverines looked like they were a little caught up in the atmosphere of the game. They skated nervously, missed checks and had trouble clearing the puck out of their zone.
But a couple of checks by UM's Andy Burnes and Mike Komisarek later, UM settled down and got its first goal on a beautiful shot by Freshman Jason Ryznar after an assist from Mike Cammalleri at 17:13 of the first period.
Cammalleri had another great game against State, scoring the first of his two goals on a patient deke of Goalie Ryan Miller. Cammalleri stole the puck in the MSU zone, dropped Miller with a fake soft shot, then slipped the puck behind the MSU goalie at 3:08 of the second.
After MSU tied the game at 2 at 14:17 of the third, the pesky Cammalleri stunned State fans again when he zipped another goal through Miller's legs to again give Michigan the lead.
MSU called a time out with 1:04 remaining and pulled Miller for a sixth attacker. They forced the action in UM's zone and during a scrum to the right of UM Goalie Josh Blackburn, UM tried to clear. MSU blue liner Brad Fast held the puck in. He fired it toward Blackburn. The puck bounced off a couple of bodies before Slater found it and snapped it over Blackburn's left shoulder.
MSU stadium erupted on Slater's goal perhaps out of relief that the No. 1 team in the country, which had been outplayed for long portions of the game, was able to forge a tie with a team that includes 10 freshmen.
The Wolverines showed their mettle and refused to let the mostly green and white MSU Stadium, or the MSU Spartan icers, intimidate them.
Coach Red Berenson's weekly show at the Creekside Inn has been moved to Wednesday evening, Oct. 10 this week because of a game Tuesday night. Watch WI.com for a re-cap of the coach's comments.