The No. 7 University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (4-2-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) has impressed in a major way through the first few weeks of the new season, but without the Crease Creatures and the rest of the Kohl Center faithful, their success may not have come to fruition.
Behind star freshmen Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield, the Badgers wouldn’t be standing as the potential team to beat come conference play in November. But it’s impossible to give credit to the team without the fans and the atmosphere of the Kohl Center.
Formed as a student organization in 2017, the Crease Creatures have increased the gameday atmosphere during home hockey games for several years now. Unlike previous years, however, the Creatures are now a full-fledged organization that is being supported by the UW Athletic Department and the hockey team, including student giveaways.
“The difference is this year, our adviser, Allison [Minisce] came to us and she’s like ‘What could we do for a student giveaway,’ and we ended up deciding on red glow sticks and red student t-shirts for the home opener,” Director of Gameday Atmosphere Jack Pientka said.
With the leadership of organizational board members — including President JT Nejedlo, Vice President Ashley Cherney, Secretary Kaitlin Indermuehle and Pientka — the club has found their sweet spot in 2019.
In their first meeting, the group said they had about 25 members come to learn more about what the Creatures are all about. They also stated there are approximately 45 members in their club group chat.
With the help of these “official” members and the rest of the student section, the Crease Creatures successfully cheered the Badgers to a home sweep against the two-time defending NCAA Champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
In game one of the weekend matchup, the Badgers scored three goals in the third period to win 6–2. To follow up that performance, the Badgers came out Saturday night and put the Bulldogs away with two goals in the second period en route to a 3–1 victory. The atmosphere of both games was truly insane and much of that energy can be chalked up to the Crease Creatures and the rest of the student section.
“[Coach Granato] says it, and he’ll say it again: The energy in the Kohl Center comes from the student section,” Cherney said. “And that’s why we definitely need people to pack those stands.”
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The Crease Creatures were created as a way to both increase attendance and interaction with the men’s hockey team. Today, it’s safe to say that goal has been met.
Between the planning of student giveaways and the annual “Skate with the Badgers” event, the connectedness of the hockey community has steadily risen for the past several years, even with teams that have underperformed.
Despite this lack of success, this season provides hope for fans as the team finds themselves with several top draft picks from the 2019 NHL Draft and stands as the No. 6 team in the country to this point. In their home-opening weekend, the Badgers displayed their incredible scoring ability against one of the best teams in the country, reinforcing the hope in longtime Badger fans.
“We haven’t made it to the NCAA Tournament and that feels like something that we should’ve been in some years, but we haven’t been in it for awhile now,” Pientka said. “So with all the talent we have on the team I think that getting into that tournament should be the hope at a minimum.”
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What separates the Crease Creatures from a conventional hockey fan is their vested interest and love for the game. The Creatures are an organization for hockey fans who want to be part of more than just a game and care about making the gameday experience and atmosphere better.
Many of the Crease Creatures weren’t even that into hockey before coming to UW. In fact, both Ashley and JT came from backgrounds that didn’t involve watching much hockey, professionally or collegiately.
“I watched professional hockey a little bit in middle school, but I’ve never had a connection to any sort of team,” Nejedlo said. “I came here and I thought the games were a lot of fun, so that’s pretty much the only hockey that I watch.”
With the help of the Crease Creatures, the student section and the rest of the mass of fans that enter the Kohl Center each night, expect Wisconsin to continue to thrive in home matchups all season and hopefully make a return to the NCAA Tournament come April.
You can learn more about the Crease Creatures by following them on Twitter @CreaseCreatures or you can attend a UW men’s hockey game and search for the loudest fans in the student section.