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December 11, 2010 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Michigan Wins as 'Big Chill' Shatters Hockey Attendance Record

Wolverines Blank Rival Michigan State at 'The Big House'

by Michael Florek/CHN Reporter

PICTORIAL: Big Chill at the Big House (see full pictorial)

Michigan State and Michigan started the outdoor hockey trend in 2001 with the Cold War, which set an attendance record. Nine years later, this time they played at Michigan's football field, The Big House, and this time shattered the all-time single-game attendance record, with over 113,000 on hand. Michigan won, 5-0. Photos courtesy Michigan and Michigan State (Rey Del Rio, Matthew Mitchell) athletic departments.

From stealth bomber flyovers at the beginning of the game, to a seven minute firework show after it, to the crowd erupting when the attendance was announced at 113,411 — the Big Chill at the Big House wasn’t just a 5-0 win by No. 12 Michigan over Michigan State. It was more like a Broadway play without the singing.

The backdrop at Michigan Stadium was an overcast day, with the temperature in the 40s and no snow all day. The weather only played a small factor by way of consistent wind gusts throughout the game.

But it never really got started until an 18 year-old freshman pulled up the curtain for the main event.

The opening half of the period started off sluggish. But on Michigan’s first power play, defenseman Jon Merrill one-timed a pass from his defense partner, Chad Langlais, and sent it past Michigan State goalie Drew Palmisano’s glove. As soon as the puck went in, the first of five in-game fireworks exploded from their mounts on the field.

The capacity crowd — the largest to watch any NCAA event in any sport, ever — was just as loud. Maybe too loud.

“I blacked out. I don’t even know,” Merrill said of the reaction after his goal. “It was just so much excitement. (I) was overwhelmed.”

Merrill added another goal two minutes later, this time at even strength. But this one, and the three Wolverine goals that succeeded it, ended up being significant onbly because of the fireworks display.

Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick, who only started because his counterpart, Bryan Hogan, got injured in the pregame warm-ups, made all 34 stops for his second career shutout. The defense stepped up in front of him, not allowing many point-blank opportunities, which paid off in the other end. Merrill’s second goal came on a rush after Hunwick had given up a rebound.

Playing in just his 19th game in college hockey, Merrill’s fourth and fifth goals earned him the first star on the biggest stage anyone has ever performed on.

“He’s probably as consistent a player as we’ve had and he’s a freshman defenseman,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But for him to step up in a game like this, an event like this, and score the first two goals is pretty special. He’ll never forget that.”

The sluggish start may have been due to the stage, as both sides admitted to looking around at the spectacle during the warm-ups. When the game was being played, the 113,411 they were looking at set not just an NCAA record, but a Michigan Stadium attendance record for any sport. And, as expected, it shattered the all-time single-game hockey attendance record. That record, originally set with the 2001 Cold War game between these teams at Spartan Stadium, the one that started the outdoor hockey trend, was broken earlier this year in Germany during a World Championships game. This game broke the record again by more than 35,000 — or by more than the attendance at last year's Frozen Four championship game at Ford Field in nearby Detroit.

“If you can separate losing, you can’t get anything better that what you experienced today,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said.

The crowd started filing out of the stadium after senior forward Carl Hagelin scored Michigan’s third power-play goal of the game midway through the third period. The stream was almost continuous until the final buzzer.

But both teams stayed on the ice, even after the final buzzer.

As both teams watched from the bench, a seven-minute fireworks display ended the spectacle that was the Big Chill.

“(The players) had to enjoy this whole thing,” Berenson said. “I was hoping they’d enjoy it after more than before, and I think that’s what happened. They really did. That was nice to have the fireworks and kind of have a party atmosphere.”

The two teams went to their respective locker rooms, dealt with the media and eventually went home. About two and a half hours after the game ended, the Michigan Stadium lights were finally turned off.

Curtain closed.
 

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