With water dripping from their raincoats and pants as they slowly filed through the doors into the Mullins Center, students at the University of Massachusetts were not going to let a day filled with rain stop them from watching the UMass hockey team take on the defending national champion and No. 3 Boston College.
With 7,678 raucous fans filling the arena Friday night, the Mullins Maniacs topped their home-opening mark of 7,123 fans that showed up on Oct. 12 to watch the Minutemen (1-1, 0-1 Hockey East Association) take on Connecticut.
“With the game being against BC, obviously a big rival of ours, a little rain was not going to stop me from coming out and cheering on our squad,” junior Ryan Souza said.
The student and fan support is definitely an improvement from the last couple of seasons, when it seemed that even the biggest of opponents struggled to draw a big crowd. Last season, UMass finished fifth in average home attendance within the HEA, averaging 4,942 fans to its home games, a little over half of the Mullins Center’s capacity of 8,389.
The early season support has given the players that extra energy to put forth a good effort game-in and game-out.
“It’s awesome and there’s really nothing like it,” junior forward Troy Power said. “When you skate out, or when you’re tired, and you hear the crowd behind you, it gives us a boost to keep going and it’s huge for us.”
In Friday night’s game against the Eagles (2-1, 2-0 HEA), students, much like Souza, were lined up outside in the pouring rain, waiting for the doors to open at 5:30 p.m. Although the line was not nearly as long as it was for the UConn game, it was the student commitment that really showed, braving the wet weather to make sure they got a seat to cheer on their team.
“I think the student support has been good, a big improvement from last year,” junior Tommy Mackey said. “It makes the games a lot more interesting, more fun and I really enjoy that.”
Junior forward Joel Hanley described the student section as a “Sixth Man” following the UConn game, and rightfully so. In the first two games, students have showed up in force, filling up the entire student section as early as 20 minutes before the opening puck drop. The early-season student support is making the largest arena in the conference a tough place to play.
“Just the visual sight of seeing that many people in one place … I’ll admit I’ve been here a couple times as a visiting coach and I’ve never seen Mullins like this, with 7,000 plus in the arena,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “It’s a neat experience for me and the coaching staff, but it’s really good for the guys to see that they had that kind of support.”
Both the students and the fans will have many more opportunities to go out and support the Minutemen early on this year, with nine of the team’s remaining 14 games before the winter break coming at home. And if the first two games are any indication of what the future holds, there will be many more nights when the Mullins Center is near full capacity.
“I think we’re going to have good support all year,” Mackey said. “The freshmen have been coming out and that’s something that can keep going. If they’re going to come out for UConn, who isn’t a great hockey school, they’re going to come out for anybody.”
Fans and students will get a night off this Friday when the Minutemen hit the road for the first time this season, heading to Agganis Arena to take on Boston University. UMass wis back in action at home on Saturday night when it wraps up a weekend series with the Terriers.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.