Barry Bonds wasn’t the only record breaker this weekend.
East Lansing’s Spartan Stadium was in college hockey’s spotlight Saturday night as the Michigan State Spartans hosted its CCHA and in-state rival Michigan Wolverines in front of a record crowd of 74,554.
That’s right, 74,554 people—a number that smashed the near-century-old mark of 55,000 to become the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game. The game was played outdoors on artificial ice in the stadium normally reserved for football.
The game had been in the works for over a year, and the end result could not have been better for the state of Michigan as well as all of college hockey. The previous mark, set on March 5, 1957 at Lenin Stadium when the Soviet Union faced Finland in the gold medal game of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, appeared for all intents and purposes to be unbreakable, given the drastically smaller size of even the biggest hockey venues across the world.
Enter Spartan Stadium. Rather than play the traditional two-game series in mid-January, the two teams agreed to try to become a part of history. The schools moved the Friday night half of the series to the beginning of the season, and with Spartan football having the weekend off, it was the perfect site and perfect date to try to break the old Soviet record, with the added allure of playing outdoors.
The response in Michigan was overwhelming. Press credentials went fast and tickets went faster. The end result was a sellout crowd that would not be disappointed.
The best part for the fans was that this was not some gimmick-laden exhibition game between a couple of national traveling teams, who would seem more likely to play an outdoor hockey game in early October.
Rather, it was a matchup between two of college hockey’s elite teams. After all, the Wolverines are ranked fifth in the preseason polls and are coming off a season in which the team fought through some tough times to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four, before falling to eventual National Champion Boston College.
And as for Michigan State? Well, the Spartans are coming off a 35-5-4 season that ended, some would say, prematurely, in a tough 2-0 loss to North Dakota in the other Frozen Four semifinal. The Spartans also have the luxury of returning junior goaltender Ryan Miller, the Hobey Baker Award winner last season and owner of the NCAA career shutout record.
There was the added bonus of the fact that this game counted—the game consisted of 50-percent of the games the two teams have against each other in CCHA play, a conference which has been fiercely contested between the two teams for several years. There is a chance the teams could meet in the Great Lakes Invitational in December and again in the postseason, but this game already held big implications in the conference race.
It didn’t take long for the Spartan faithful to be rewarded. Senior Adam Hall, one of Michigan State’s top offensive threats for three years now, got MSU on the board only 3:25 into the first period. Following Hall’s goal, the fans were treated to a pyrotechnic show as flames burst into the sky out of the four corners of the rink, a ritual that was repeated throughout the night following Spartan goals.
Michigan, however, was also ready to play. Behind the stellar play of junior Mike Camalleri, who tallied two goals on the night, the Wolverines carried a 3-2 lead into the final minute of regulation.
But in a fitting end to such a momentous game, the Spartans took advantage of the extra attacker after pulling Miller, and knotted the score at 3-3 on a goal by Jim Slater. Neither team could score in the overtime session, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie. It is not sure as of yet whether or not the two teams (or any others for that matter) will try to repeat this feat, but one thing is for sure: this game was a success, as 75,554 fans can attest to.