Wild world record at outdoor college game

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When the number was announced during the third period, it took a moment to process – for the fans in the stands, for the players in the game. Everyone knew it would be a world record for attendance at a hockey game. The Big Chill at the Big House had been sold out long before the puck dropped for Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State game, and Michigan Stadium routinely holds more than 110,000 fans for football.

But 113,411?

“That’s unbelievable,” said Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick, who stopped all 34 shots he faced in the Wolverines’ 5-0 victory. “That’s more than the hometown I grew up in.”

Actually, that’s more than twice Hunwick’s hometown, Roseville, Mich., population 48,129.

One hundred thirteen thousand four hundred eleven.

Think about that.

That’s 35,608 more than the previous world record for hockey attendance, set May 7 when 77,803 watched the world championships at a domed soccer stadium in Germany.

That’s 42,194 more than the record for NHL attendance, set Jan. 1, 2008, when 71,217 watched the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Buffalo Sabres in the Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

That’s a record for any game of any kind at Michigan Stadium – even including all those epic football clashes with Ohio State and Notre Dame. That’s a record for any event of any kind in NCAA history.

That is, well, a little unbelievable. There were a few empty seats, just a few, in the upper reaches of one corner of the stadium. The official capacity for football is 109,901.

“I don’t know where they found all the new seats,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

But clearly the world record was crushed. That was confirmed by Mike Janel, an adjudicator with Guinness World Records, who was responsible for tallying bar-code scans of tickets and lists of special passes. Are you going to argue with a guy who has validated the world’s largest serving of roast pork and the highest tightrope crossing on a bicycle?

“It’s not just for tickets sold; we need to see the people that actually show up,” said Janel, whose organization still needed to complete its official count. “I’ve always wanted to come to the Big House. I never thought it would be for a hockey game. This is an awesome way for me to be here.”

And it will be an awesome memory for everyone who was there, from the kids playing street hockey – not just football – at the tailgate parties in the parking lots, to the Canadian fans signing “O Canada” on the walk to the stadium, to the players themselves.

Especially the players. Michigan hockey players normally don’t have awesome memories of Michigan Stadium. It is there that they run the stairs of the cavernous old bowl for conditioning. With Berenson looking on, they have to touch each and every step. Up, across, down. Again, again and again. Year after year.

“It would take you about 15 minutes,” recalled Montreal Canadiens winger Mike Cammalleri, who played for the Wolverines from 1999-2002. “I’d say maybe 60 percent of the group would vomit at the end of that run. It was fun.”

Finally, for one day, the Wolverines were rewarded for their hard work the way the football players are. The Michigan Marching Band performed. The hockey players charged out of the tunnel and tapped the traditional “Go Blue” banner at the 50-yard line. A B-2 stealth bomber flew over during the national anthem. The ceremonial puck was dropped by Barbara Benedek and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote “The Big Chill,” the film about a group of Michigan grads who gather to mourn a friend.

The game was played on a temporary rink of Olympic-sized ice. The larger sheet – set smack in the middle of the stadium, from one 15-yard line to the other, between the numbers – looked in perfect proportion, like it was almost supposed to be there. When the Wolverines scored, fireworks exploded, and the roar of the crowd was like nothing the players had ever heard before.

“I blacked out,” Michigan’s Jon Merrill said. “It was nuts.”

Some of the fans chanted the way they do at Yost Arena, the Wolverines’ usual home, an old brick barn that holds less than 7,000 fans, but loud, proud (and often profane) fans. The Wolverines scored five goals – the first two by Merrill, the next two by Carl Hagelin, the last one by David Wohlberg, who pretended to kick an extra point afterward – which meant that five times the fans pointed and told Spartans goaltender Drew Palmisano: “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!”

You would think it would have been a brutal day for the Spartans, to be so thoroughly beaten before a world-record crowd, then to sit through a postgame fireworks show in the cold. But the score wasn’t the significant number Saturday.

“Ten years from now,” Michigan State captain Torey Krug said, “I’m going to remember it probably as the most fun I ever had on an ice rink.”

One hundred thirteen thousand four hundred eleven.

Think about that.

“I don’t know that it’ll be in perspective by the time I hit bed tonight, which will be in less than an hour, but at some point, you’ll realize this was really something,” said Berenson, the 71-year-old legend, about 6:15 p.m. ET. “This was exactly as advertised. This was the real deal. To me, it couldn’t be any better.”