One night after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 4 inside Quicken Loans Arena to go down 3-1 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series, the Lake Erie Monsters — the top minor-league affiliate of NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets — were able to sweep the Hershey Bears in their own best-of-seven series to win the American Hockey League's Calder Cup. In what was a heart pounding 79 minutes of scoreless hockey, Monsters forward Oliver Bjorkstand was able to put the puck in the back of the net with just 19 seconds left in the first sudden-death overtime period to win the game in incredible fashion, doing so in front of a sellout crowd of 19,655 spectators, the second-largest crowd in AHL history. Bjorkstand, who was named the AHL's playoff MVP following the game, is one of the Blue Jackets' top prospects, and with 10 goals in the playoffs, six of which were game-winning goals, he proved that he is one of the best in the AHL.
The eventual Calder Cup-clinching goal began with an icing call on the Hershey Bears that sent the puck to the Monster's attacking zone for a faceoff with just 11.1 seconds remaining. After Lake Erie's Lukas Sedlak won the faceoff, the Monsters put plenty of pressure on the Bears and finally scored a goal with just over a second left.
The Monsters had plenty of hard-earned good fortune throughout the playoffs. They not only won nine consecutive games to clinch the cup, but also won 15 of 17 playoff games and were 5-0 in overtime games throughout the postseason. In the series-clinching game, Lake Erie had plenty of chances to score but just couldn't put the puck in the back of the net. But with every close chance, the record-setting crowd stood and made their voices heard, hoping for just one goal, a goal that although they didn't know at the time, would eventually come.
Following Bjorkstand's game-winner, the crowd went wild, the Monsters' helmets and gear were thrown all across the ice, and players came together, jumping in celebration while the sellout crowd stood on their feet, applauding their hockey team's championship while the goal horn continued to sound, making sure all of the people in attendance knew that the Monsters had just won the Calder Cup. The forward was obviously ecstatic following the game, per The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline.
“Amazing feeling, obviously. A little bit of a lucky situation, but sometimes you win that way. I knew I couldn’t take much time to (shoot) the puck ... I got pretty lucky that the puck went in off the goalie.”
Monsters' captain Ryan Craig, couldn't hold back his excitement for his team, explaining how much the 2015-16 version of Lake Erie's hockey team came together when they needed to, especially in the playoffs. Their selflessness was a key part of why they dominated throughout the AHL playoffs.
“This is the top of the mountain for us, right here. The way this team came together. The selflessness. We got so tight. We knew we had a talented group right from the start, but you don’t know how long it’s going to take to come together. This group committed, and so many guys played a part of this.”
While shutting out the Bears, Monsters goalie Anton Forsberg continued his dominance in the Calder Cup clinching game. Although he took over as the full-time starter late in Round 2 of the playoffs, he had a 23-save shutout while leading his team to the championship. It was his ninth consecutive win, remaining unbeaten in the 2016 playoffs and allowing just 13 goals in 10 games. While shutting out Hershey in Game 4, Forsberg thanked the sellout crowd for helping his team clinch the cup Saturday night.
With so much talent both on the ice and on the bench, many Monsters players and personnel could possibly be in Columbus come fall. But for this season, they had done all they could to accomplish their biggest goal and bring the Calder Cup back to Cleveland. The last time The Land hoisted the cup was in 1964 when the Cleveland Barons claimed it.
Although it was my first Monsters game of the season that I attended, there is nothing better than playoff hockey, even if it isn't the NHL. With a crowd that seemed to have plenty of energy and gave the Monsters plenty of adrenaline and reasons to win the cup, Th Q was rocking Saturday night, not because of an NBA Finals game, but because of an AHL Calder Cup matchup. Cleveland may be a football town, or even a basketball or baseball town at times, but for one night, Cleveland's hockey team brought the Calder Cup back to The Land for the first time since 1964. Thank you Monsters, that overtime game-winner to win the Calder Cup was a night I will never forget. 1
1 For those interested, the Monsters will host a Calder Cup celebration at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday on Gateway Plaza, between Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field. The celebration is free to the public.