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Growing fan base helps LZMW hockey keep winning

Tyler Krasavage and his Lake Zurich-Mundelein-Wauconda teammates have thrived this season as their classmates have packed the stands. (Elise Hood / HANDOUT)

By Jon J. Kerr
Pioneer Press
FEBRUARY 6, 2017, 11:57 AM

The crowd at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills roared with every hard check, every positive play. Tyler Krasavage notices such things.
A defenseman for the Lake Zurich-Mundelein-Wauconda co-op hockey team, Krasavage and his teammates gave the lively audience reason to cheer Feb. 1. In the opening game of the Illinois High School Hockey League playoffs, LZMW defeated Lake Forest Gold 4-1. "It's kind of awesome," said Krasavage a Lake Zurich senior. "We're a combined team and we're getting more people to come to our games."
laying in front of the fans gives the guys a little bit of extra energy," coach Steve Sarauer added.
The atmosphere at Glacier hasn't always been as spirited as it was on Feb. 1. 
Krasavage first played varsity hockey as a freshman in 2013-14. Wauconda hadn't joined the co-op yet, so it was just Mundelein and Lake Zurich, and the team didn't have a great record.   Attendance was sparse.  Wauconda joined the program last season. 
This year, the joint team played in the IHSHL North Central Platinum subdivision, which it won with a 17-1 League record.  Last season, LZMW won the Platinum Cup, awarded to the round-robin playoff champion.  Sarauer, in his fifth season, prefers a free-flowing scheme that rewards creativity.  "We want a lot of offense and get back and play hard for our goaltenders," Sarauer said. "Be responsible, but the more creative you are, the more you are learning." 
Along with co-captains Brett Parola and Zach Zentz, both Mundelein seniors, Krasavage works off the ice to get students in the seats at games. They recruit student section leaders who spread the word at school. Social media use is vital. A Lake Zurich Twitter account, @lzstudents, acts as a marketing tool, as does a Facebook page for Red Rage, the Mundelein student section. 
The IHSHL operates within the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois, not the Illinois High School Association that oversees most other varsity sports. Krasavage said grassroots efforts are mandatory if the players are to get support from classmates. 
"We have to tell people to come to our games. When the crowds started getting better, we were nervous at first. But now we look forward to it and get more excited about it," Krasavage said. "We are more motivated when the fans come, and we want to keep winning and wanting them to come."
Sarauer admitted he put Krasavage on the varsity roster in 2013-14 out of necessity. Program numbers were low, and he needed the extra body. Now, Krasavage has developed into a hard-shooting defenseman named to the league's all-star team. 
"He's grown a lot since freshman year and improved his skills," said Parola, another four-year varsity player. "He's a good presence for a lot of the younger guys on the team."  
On the sleeve of each player's hockey sweater is a logo or patch of his high school. But on the front of each  uniform are the letters "LZMW", signifying the team's three-school make-up. 
Because LZMW won its division, it will be the home team throughout the Platinum playoffs. That's more opportunities for the crowds to come and provide community support for LZMW as it tries to defend its Platinum Cup title. 
"The season has got rolling, and we are playing our best hockey," Krasavage said. "When you see the support, we want to win more."

Jon J. Kerr is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.
Twitter @Pioneer_Press
Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune

This article is related to: Lake Zurich, Mundelein, Illinois High School Association