For most of the time that I’ve followed the team the turnout was sparse in the stands. Up until a few years ago, 500 people at a game could have been considered a lot and 250 to 300 in attendance was common.
But, things have changed…and have they ever!
Now, more than 1,000 fans fill the stands each game, with most games nearing and even exceeding 1,500. That’s huge!
That’s a result of the team’s successes of the past few years. It’s also a result of the fans in the Eagles Nest. There are a few gents who lead the pack there and their style of FANdemonium is contagious and they get the students and the townies pumped up about the game and engaged through all three periods. It’s because of them that Brockport now has an honest-to-goodness home ice advantage.
These guys are wild enough that they take their brand of noise and smack-talking to most road games as well.
Many fans and parents wonder, just who are these guys? What makes them tick? To answer those questions and many more I recently interviewed three of the biggest fans…Grant Voges, Jay Baburchak, and Otto Isenberg.
I asked them a series of questions to which they all gave their own insight.
BOB: What inspired the Eagles Nest?
GRANT: I believe the story of the Eagle's Nest stems back to when Geneseo came to our barn, and cheered us out. Ever since then, I think it's just been an attempt to never have that happen again. Sort of like a pact between the hardcore hockey fans.
JAY: As far as I know the Eagle's Nest was around before any of us stepped foot on the campus of Brockport. As for myself, being a part of it started three years ago with my roommate Brian. Both of us grew up with hockey in our blood, once we got here and found out we had college hockey, we were sold. I live roughly 40 minutes away from Cornell, and thankfully they have been the biggest influence on my college hockey perspective. I went to a Cornell v Harvard game the year before I came to Brockport, and carried some of their chants with me up here. Brian and I have been coming to every home game for the last three years, and just started travelling to the games last year during the playoffs for the 7 hour trip to Platty. We really started recruiting people like Grant said, after getting cheered out by Geneseo and their band, because as everyone around Brockport knows, we HATE Geneseo.
OTTO: I've grown up around hockey, my dad taught in Minnesota (Bemidji state) and was always interested in it but never played. He started me when I was 2 on an outdoor rink and i've been playing ever since. All through my life i've been watching different levels UC, Colgate, Union, MVCC and when the UC program first started the student section was amazing. You watch tv and see a michigan crowd and that idea but its not the same as seeing them in action. UC had a crowd that had a chant for every whistle and every event in the game it made the games at the Aud fun to watch. After seeing this and coming to Brockport I always wished we had this. Ive been to all but a handful of Brockport games in my 4 years here. After meeting Jay and Brian last year is when i started being in the section and not behind it. Now its a dream come true to see the stands packed and the whole "Eagles Nest" standing for the entire WNE game.
BOB: At the turn of the century 250 to 400 was an average crowd. Since you guys have focused on filling the stands to give the team the support they deserve that number now exceeds 1,200/game. How have you attracted so many people to Tuttle North?
GRANT: We're kind of like a second fourth-line in this respect. ENERGY. Whether I'm standing out in the union square cheering to get people to go to the game, or Otto's out making copies of flyers, Brian's getting in the other team's head, or Jay's setting up places to stay during away game weekends we all expend a TON of energy trying to get support up and to the team. We hope others follow suit soon, and some have. We've got to lead by example.
JAY: I think we have brought many people into the games by the flyers, as well as the exceptional play as of the last couple of years by the team. Every one of the past three years, the fan base has grown significantly. Todd's charity, the home playoff game of last year, t-shirts during the Geneseo game in which they won, all of these have factored in to the fans showing up game after game and giving their support. The stylus has also played a nice role, Lawrence Foster constantly has great articles about the team.
OTTO: Facebook would have to be the key to getting people there. As you have seen the group, an event and a reminder about every other day keeps people reminded about the game. For the WNE game we made 115 flyers or so and took them all to res life and had them hang them around campus to inform people as well.
BOB: You're a loud bunch. Listening to the broadcasts from road games you're a presence there, too. How have the fans at the opponent's ice arenas treated you?
GRANT: Haha, well, the fans aren't so nice (and who can blame them?), but other administrators are. At Geneseo for instance, a very nice man who was running the show there gave us some rules to abide by, and asked if i had any problems to come and inform him. This is pretty much the norm around SUNYAC, even though the majority won't allow our noisemakers, and some have ridiculous rules (Cortland keeps all of the pucks that leave the playing surface...there isn't even a logo on them.) The biggest difference is we can't get away with the same kind of chants we can at home, on the road.
JAY: The opposing arenas haven't been too bad. I personally think that we are much worse to opposing fans in our barn than the people that razz us when we go to away games. Most of the time its a fun atmosphere and it just pumps us up more to get louder than the home team's fans. On occasion We'll have people that have a problem with us, but that is expected when you are the away team's fans. I would love to see one of the fan bases start a Cornell "Section O sucks" chant against us, I think I would just die laughing at it.
OTTO: We seem to be the tempo setter at most games. When we went to geneseo, despite the size of their crowd, no one cheered besides the band until we started a chant and they had to come back with one. Cortland we drew most of the students over to sit near us and they made a few comments that drew laughs from those of us that were there. Plattsburgh last year some of the older watchers started to heckle us because they didn't like our style of watching hockey apparently they were happier to sit in their seats and just watch. The staff is always polite gives us warnings and generally a guideline to follow which is fine as long as their fans are held to it as well.
BOB: Where did the rules of fan conduct come from?
JAY: The fan rules have come quite a bit from Cornell, but we have also taken some from Colgate (Otto's team) and Michigan (Brian's team). I myself am a huge Big Red fan, so I brought some of their chants with me from Ithaca. One thing I would love to see in the coming years is a pep band. I am 100% sure that if we had one, attendance would go up, and we would be able to have better, more creative chants and be able to sing along with the band.
OTTO: I got the idea of the handout from Colgate, which I sent to you last year, we finally got around to actually making it this year. Its a combination of Colgate cheers, Cornell, Michigan, and whatever else google could find for us. Just helped to unify the section, we plan to change it up and add ones that we use and take out ones we dont for the fall semester.
BOB: What are your thoughts on the fans?
GRANT: Our fans are getting better and better every game. According to USCHO Brockport is 6th overall in D-III attendance, and more and more of our fans are standing in the student section every game, for the WHOLE game. It's really rewarding when the new fans come up to me and say "This was my first hockey game here at Brockport, and I can't wait to come back." That's called building a fan base, this is exciting. It's also very rewarding to have the parents of the players tell us how much they enjoy having us.
JAY: The fans are coming around. The last game of the semester was HUGE. Great turn out, and an even better showing by the team to go back to Shutout City and have a big win. We are expanding every game with the people that will stand and cheer with us, I hope by the end of the season that we can get everyone in the Nest to stand up for the entire game.
One of the biggest compliments we have had came at the WNEC game. We brought my buddy Matt with us to the game, someone who had never been to a Brockport hockey game. Matt has gone to England numerous times and is a huge soccer fan. He said the only other environment he had been in that would compare to Tuttle North was a soccer match in England. I thought that was a HUGE compliment to us.
OTTO: It is great to see a growing fan base every game. We have heard a lot of people say that it was their first hockey game but they will be back for more without a doubt. I know i've walked around on campus with Grant a few times and people will come up and say hey your the kid with the drum from the hockey games so you know they see us and that we have their attention helps a lot hopefully it draws them back game after game.
BOB: What are your thoughts on the team?
GRANT: This team just oozes confidence right now. After a slower start than they would have liked, they believe they're as good as anyone right now, and can beat anyone. I'm right there with them in those feelings too! If these guys can improve upon the rough 3rd periods they've had...watch out. I smell another home playoff game.
JAY: The team is coming around after the slow start. You also have to look at how they opened it, with the trip up north. No easy task to start off the year. They bounced back, and looked like conditioning was a bit off on Saturday games. It seems as though that had changed in the last couple weeks of the semester. I for one am really looking forward to the 2nd half, and hopefully keeping the energy that Grant provided in the building.
OTTO: I think the team has turned a corner. I dont know how much the thanksgiving tournament did them as far as competition but I do know that it helped the confidence a great deal. Other then the Oswego game (which I believe will be interesting in Brockport) they have played outstanding since that tournament. As far as off the ice the team has been great as well. I will see players as i walk through campus, some who I don't recognize without their stuff on and they will come up and thank us for coming out and for what we do.
BOB: Grant, how did it feel to have the spotlight on you as you sang the national anthems in December (it was quite an accomplishment!)?
GRANT: It was simply amazing. I've sang the Anthems at many other events but i've always wanted to here. It was really cool of the team to come through and shake my hand after, saying thanks for all the support. According to the team, i'm not allowed to not sing whenever i'm there. It's fantastic!
BOB: Grant is in the military next semester and Otto and Jay graduate soon. Who will keep the Eagles Nest alive and vibrant when you 3 are away from Brockport?
GRANT: Well, Otto will be there all next year too! Next semester it's all Otto and Brian, next year It's all me and Otto. We're pretty good at converting close friends into big fans, and if we can keep the energy up, more students will step up (such as the trombone guy from the WNEC game.)
JAY: Its going to be tough losing Grant, he is a HUGE part of every game, we are just going to have to step up and be as outgoing as he was. I will be home in the spring semester, but the way my schedule looks as of now, I will be able to make the trek up to the Port for all of the home games, provided it doesn't interfere with student teaching. We should still have Otto, Brian, Eddie, and myself for this spring's games, but then its going to be Otto, Grant, and Eddie next year, hopefully we will be able to recruit some younger people to come and stand with us. So this is going out to anyone reading this, when you see us at games, come up and talk to us! We would love to have our group grow and continue to be around in the next 5-10 years, and hopefully even grow to fill up the entire side of the rink.
OTTO: Well luckily were keeping at least 2 of us here all the time (the next year and a half) and even though Grant wont be with us (physically, we know he will be in spirit) we should be able to keep it going strong. Hopefully making good friends with some of the younger supporters who we can pass it off to in a few years when we all graduate. Though a reunion is in the talks for the home Geneseo game yearly as long as we can get here.
GRANT: Our main goal is to simply make this the best school to play for in SUNYAC. If we can make this environment crazy, maybe some of the better D-III prospects will want to play here, creating a better team in the future. We want to create tradition so that students will chant every year, even after we're long gone. Plus, let's face it, these players deserve it, they work so hard for us, why can't we work hard for them?
JAY: This is hopefully our little way to better the College in future years, I hope it continues to have a positive influence on potential prospects as well as the fans that already come to bring more students with them. Lets pack the barn February 12th, hopefully we will have a little surprise for all the fans in the Eagle's Nest that night. The main thing is that we all have fun with it, nothing serious or personal attacks, just good old fashioned fun. And I would like to thank the team for the salute after every game, its something that tells us that they appreciate what we do for them.
OTTO: In the end were there because we love hockey and well its some of the best around. We could go to amerks games on the weekend but ill take watching our boys play and being rowdy in the stands any day. I'm just happy they boys go out and give it their all every time and let us have something to cheer about and have some fun with.