Saturday, March 13, 2010

Elimination Saturday: Reflections from an empty rink

Hockey history is everywhere inside Munn Ice Arena.

Three Michigan State national championship banners hang over the rink, honoring accomplishments of teams past.

At present, though, the Spartans immediate playoff history is anything but certain. This, a night after rival Michigan delivered a stunning opening game punch to the mouth – a 5-1 victory that gave the Wolverines an early edge in the best-of-three playoff series.

The game was played in an arena that normally draws standing-room only crowds for Michigan State's tussles with its in-state rival. But on this night, the stands were half-empty, the crowd lethargic.

"I was disappointed," said Red Berenson, who has overseen Michigan's storied program for the past 26 years.

Disappointed. That, in one word summarized a crowd of just more than 3,000 that sat stunned for 2 1/2 hours watching their beloved Spartans picked apart by a lower-seeded Michigan team.

Two hours before Game 2, the rink is empty. The ice glistens after being freshly cleaned by a Zamboni, which created the only noise other than pop music that echoed out of arena speakers. In the belly of this old hockey barn, players will dress, preparing for what could be Michigan State's final hockey game of the season.

In a place where hockey's excitement brings out the fanatic out of those who fill the stands, lights are dimmed and signs of Game Day life are just beginning to stir. It's an interesting sight. A lifeless hockey rink hoping to see its season-long activity span extended for another day.

Only time will tell whether that happens.

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