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Local fans on MU hockey: ‘Something we’ve fallen in love with’

D7516 Hockey vs Colorado
D7516 Hockey vs Colorado

A light-haired 12-year-old girl with freckles and glasses sat a few rows behind the glass at Steve "Coach" Cady arena, carefully examining the ice where the Miami University hockey team played against Colorado College.

Erin Johnson, a local Miami hockey fan for almost 10 years, wore a hat resembling a Miami hockey helmet, red and white beads and a red and white zebra-patterned scarf.

She's been attending Miami hockey games with her father, Mike Johnson, since she was 4 years old. The family has held season tickets since 2006 - the first year Goggin Ice Center opened.

On Feb. 27, Miami's senior night, Erin held a white poster that read "thank you seniors" in large red letters. The face of a RedHawk was pasted in the top right corner.

Sean Kuraly, the team captain, is her favorite. When Erin's school teacher assigned a paper on someone who demonstrates perseverance, Kuraly was her subject of choice.

"We met Sean during the autograph night, and he was nice enough to give us his email," Mike said. "So she had some correspondence with him back and forth for her paper. It was very nice that he did that."

When it's game time in Oxford, the Johnsons drive an hour and 20 minutes from their home in Cincinnati. Erin said she can name all the Miami players, and her favorite memory is the season when her family sat behind the opposing team's bench. Players and managers would hand her broken sticks and pucks.

The Johnsons' favorite cheer is the "sieve" chant, in which fans celebrate a Miami goal by shunning the opposing goaltender.

On senior night, they got to hear it four times -- Miami shut out Colorado College 4-0 in its last regular season home game.

Senior defenseman Taylor Richart was first to put the 'Hawks on the board. He ripped a wrist shot from the right point to give Miami a 1-0 lead 13:04 into the second period.

During the celebration, Aaron Yonka, sitting in section four at center ice, waved a Miami flag attached to a hockey stick, taped red and decorated with red lights.

Hockey Fans

A '96 Miami alum, Yonka bought the flag in the spring of '92 while he was a student. He originally had taped the flag to a yardstick.

"When I had opportunity to come back into the area after moving away after school, I contacted the staff here," he said. "I said 'hey, I'd like to come back and bring my flag and put it on a hockey stick. I realize that's outside of the normal rules, what would it take to make that a reality?'"

Goggin officials called Yonka and said he could bring the beloved flag on one condition: he could only wave it when nothing was happening on the ice so that it wouldn't be a distraction. But, he decided to push the rule by putting lights on it.

"Ever since then, I've been the guy with the light-up hockey stick."

Yonka has been a season ticket holder and a member of the Blue Line Club since 2007 and has attended every home game. He said other sports in the Cincinnati area can't compare to what Miami hockey provides.

"When you go to a [Cincinnati] Cyclones game, people are there to build beer can pyramids and cheer for fights," he said. "You come to a Miami hockey game, and there's people out there on the ice playing because they want to achieve the next level. I come to these games to see player development not only from freshman to senior through the years, but how they get better every day. What Coach Blasi and the players have tried to put together as the Brotherhood is so important."

With 70 seconds left in the third period, Miami led 3-0, courtesy of a one-timer from senior left-winger Kevin Morris and a backhanded goal on a rebound from freshman left-winger Keifer Sherwood. Colorado College pulled goaltender Tyler Marble for an extra skater, but junior left-winger Anthony Louis put an exclamation point on the victory with an empty net goal at the 19:59 mark.

Though the game was over, fans stayed standing at their seats to complete the fourth sieve chant and recognize the players' ritual post-game stick salute at center ice.

Lissa and Brian Martin, both wearing oversized game-worn jerseys, were some of the last people to leave their spots.

"Swoop's Stoop" was sewn in large block letters into the name plate of Lissa's jersey. She won the commemorative Swoop's Stoop one-game only jersey in a team auction in 2012.

"The player who wore this one warmed up in front of us," she said. "That's why I wanted his jersey."

Brian's jersey was worn by a player during the 2012-13 season - Miami's last season as a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

"I think on an average night, Miami puts on a better display of hockey than, say, the Cyclones do on an average night," Brian said. "The skills out here are generally better."

The Oxford locals traveled to Cleveland on Feb. 20 for a Lake Erie Monsters hockey game to cheer for Trent Vogelhuber, a '12 alum of Miami's hockey program.

The Martins have been attending hockey games at Miami for eight years. They said it's hard to pick one memory as a favorite, and the players and Goggin's atmosphere are the reasons why.

"I was impressed with the team when they did their autograph night," Lissa said. "They were coming off a loss, and they were just so happy that the fans were there, thanking us for showing up … this is something we've fallen in love with."