With the Huskies opening their home season after three weeks on the road, it’s time for the Old Dog to look back at the birth of the John J. MacInnes Student Ice Arena—The Mac.
For me, The Mac will always be a new place, even though it’s been open since 1972, the same year I graduated from Tech. 45 years is a long, long time for something to be new, but for me, it sure seems new.
I attended my first Huskies game at Dee Stadium 49 years ago. It was an exhibition game against McMaster University, and Tech blew them out, 9-0. The Huskies had a great year, finishing 21-9-2, with a 14-5-1 record in the WCHA. They won the McNaughton Cup, and beat Michigan State and then Michigan to win the NCAA regional, and headed for the Frozen Four. They lost the semi-final to Cornell in overtime 4-3—but team MVP Al Karlander scored the only hat trick ever posted against all-time great goaltender Ken Dryden.
The Dee replaced the Amphidrome, which burned down in January 1927. By next season, the New Amphidrome had been built, and James R. Dee had been instrumental in financing the construction. When Michigan Tech purchased the facility in 1943, it was re-named Dee Stadium.
When I first saw the Dee, it was not the same as it is today. It had its Quonset-hut shape, but the outside was different. It had a more windows, and it was covered in wooden clapboards, painted a dingy light shade of some color I can’t even picture clearly today. Inside, it was also different. There was no insulation anywhere I ever saw, and it could be bitterly cold on game nights. The same clapboards could be seen everywhere. And the balcony actually hung over the end board on the west end. I don’t really know if you could see the goal there, because I never had enough money to buy a seat for a game at Dee, and so I never went up there. But I could see people leaning over the edge, shouting obscenities whenever the visiting goalie was at that end.
On the ice, things were very different, too. There wasn’t any glass. Instead, there was cyclone fencing. When opposing players would get pinned, fans might try to poke them in the face through the wire. In those days there wasn’t much space behind the net, either. The surface was only 185 feet long, 15 feet shorter than the current NHL standard of 200 feet.
The players also looked different. Goalies wore Jason-from-Halloween fiberglass masks. The goalie for the McMaster team, playing under Canadian rules, didn’t even wear a mask. The players wore flimsy helmets, lined with a thin bit of stiff foam. They prevented cuts from contact, but they weren’t worth much to thwart concussion.
And no skater ever wore a mask.
The last time I remember being in Dee as a student, I went to a dance in the spring of 1972—yes, we actually had “dances” in those days—and the band playing was the Bob Seger System, his group before the Silver Bullet Band.
Sometime in 1970—as I remember—a proposal was floated by the administration to build a new arena. The catch was simple. Students would have to agree to pay an additional $10 per quarter (yes, we were still on quarters) in tuition to help fund the arena. At the time, tuition was only $130 per quarter, and for most of us, ten bucks was not trivial. (I think my father was making about $8,000 per year, and he had a decent factory job…) However, the administration and the Student Council were upfront about it, and the student body would have to approve a referendum to add the cost to the tuition fee. The vote was positive, although I have no memory of what the vote was.
So, construction started, and by Christmas, 1971, the building was sufficiently complete for the Huskies to leave The Dee. On January 14, 1972, the new facility, known as the Student Ice Arena, because we helped pay for it, was formally dedicated.
At the time, The Old Dog was Senior Class President, which meant I was supposed to be one of the leaders of the Student Council. Lou Angotti, the veteran Chicago Blackhawk player who had been the anchor of the 1962 NCAA championship team, was keynote speaker. There were plenty of other speakers, too, including Dennis McGrath, the Council President, and Teo Babun, the Council Vice-President. I was the final student speaker.
It was at that dedication ceremony that McGrath proposed the arena be named for John MacInnes. Dennis planned this out in secret, but it seem like such a good idea that I chimed in, too, making a pitch for it as I ad-libbed my way through a very loosely prepped speech.
Once the building was opened, I scrounged up enough money for a season ticket, and my then-girlfriend-now-wife-of-44-years Carol bought one, too. It was an off-year for the Huskies, as they finished 7th in the WCHA and hung up one of only four losing seasons (16-17-1) under MacInnes. The Huskies swept the first series in the building, beating Minnesota-Duluth twice.
My most vivid memory was from a Winter Carnival game in ’72. Carol and I were headed to a party after the game, and she had on a great mini-dress and dress shoes. We’d gotten a ride to the arena from one of my fraternity brothers, Ted Snyder. My car, a 1961 Simca (!!) wasn’t running because the shift lever had snapped off during a particularly cold night about a week earlier (and getting parts for an old French car was nearly impossible; I eventually had someone weld it back together).
Ted had a great car, a Dodge Charger with a big engine, and as the game wound down, Ted told us we could head out for the car early—it wasn’t locked—so Carol could avoid the rush in her party clothes. For some reason, though, Ted took his time leaving, and we sat in the back seat for the better part of 30 minutes. But without the keys, we couldn’t start the engine. It was -15 F outside. We were totally frozen when Ted finally showed up, and those 30 minutes seemed like hours. Worse, Michigan State swept the series to win the Governor’s Cup.
I still have two souvenir pucks from the dedication. One is in good condition, but the other is scuffed up because one of my roommates decided play road hockey with it. I was livid, and was tempted to beat the stuffing out of him. But I calmed down, and, all in all, that puck’s cover is in decent shape today.
The last time I was in The Mac as a student was for graduation in June of 1972. Again, I was asked to be one of the speakers. But otherwise I was bored out of my mind for the entire affair. I would not return again until Winter Carnival in 2002.
And that’s The Old Dog’s memories of how The Mac came into being. Of course, my memories could be a bit fuzzy (that’s appropriate, I think), so maybe one of THG’s readers can fill in some of the blanks.