The Lake Erie Monsters won the AHL’s Calder Cup on Saturday night as they swept aside the Hershey Bears thanks to a 2-1 overtime victory. Right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand jammed a loose puck past Bears goaltender Justin Peters with 1.9 seconds left in the first extra period to secure the historic win.
Cleveland, at last, can lay claim to a professional sports championship. And, no, it’s not the NBA’s Cavaliers – at least, not yet.
The Lake Erie Monsters won the AHL’s Calder Cup on Saturday night as they swept aside the Hershey Bears thanks to a 1-0 overtime victory. Right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand jammed a loose puck past Bears goaltender Justin Peters with 1.9 seconds left in the first extra period to secure the historic win.
Bjorkstrand’s championship-winning goal was scored in front of 19,665 fans at Quicken Loans Arena – home of the Cavaliers, who trail the Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the NBA Finals. According to the AHL, it was the largest crowd to see a pro hockey game in Ohio and the second-largest post-season attendance total in AHL history.
No Cleveland team had won a pro title since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL championship – the precursor to the Super Bowl – and the AHL’s Barons claimed their last of nine Calder Cups. Major League Baseball’s Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, while the Cavs are still searching for their first championship.
Lake Erie Monsters wins the Calder Cup. pic.twitter.com/BYEsCFtLF7
— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) June 12, 2016
The impressive post-season march by the Monsters saw them lose just twice in 17 games. That’s the best record for a team requiring four playoff rounds in AHL history.
Aside from the significance of Cleveland winning a championship, the other beneficiaries are 150 miles to the southwest in Columbus.
The Monsters are the top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who endured a miserable season where they finished 15th in the Eastern Conference with a 34-40-8 record. The Jackets were a team predicted by many to be on the rise after acquiring left winger Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks last summer. Instead, they never recovered after losing their first eight games of the season and replaced coach Todd Richards with John Tortorella. Center Ryan Johansen was eventually traded to Nashville in January for defenseman Seth Jones.
The Blue Jackets own the third overall pick in the NHL draft later this month where they’re expected to select Finnish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi. The Calder Cup playoff run could prove they have more promising players in their system.
Among those prospects is Bjorkstrand, who was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP after recording 10 goals and 16 points in 17 games. Bjorkstrand, 21, was selected in the third round, 89th overall, by the Blue Jackets in 2013 and was the WHL’s top scorer last season with 63 goals and 118 points as a member of the Portland Winterhawks. He spent most of this season in the AHL, but contributed four goals and eight points in 12 games with Columbus.
Defenseman Zach Werenski showed well after turning pro less than three months ago. Werenski was the Blue Jackets’ top pick, eighth overall, last June. He left Michigan after signing his entry-level contract on March 29 and joined the Monsters. The 18-year-old had five goals and 14 points in Lake Erie’s Calder Cup run.
Right winger Josh Anderson registered seven goals and 12 points along the way. The 22-year-old played on Canada’s 2014 team at the World Junior Championship after being selected 95th overall in 2012. Anderson appeared in 12 games for the Blue Jackets this season, scoring once and adding three assists.
Goaltender Anton Forsberg made 23 saves in the Game 4 shutout. He finished the playoffs with a 9-0 record in 10 appearances, posting a 1.34 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage. Forsberg, 23, appeared in four games for the Blue Jackets this season. His Monsters netminding partner Joonas Korpisalo appeared in 31 games in Columbus because of groin injuries to starter Sergei Bobrovsky. Korpisalo, 22, posted a 16-11-4 mark with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
The future looks bright for Columbus, but the present belongs to Cleveland. The city has its first professional championship in 52 years.
Saturday’s win also came two days after Phil Simon died after a long battle with cancer. According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Simon was a fixture in the Cleveland hockey community since 1950 and huge supporter of the team.
Simon’s son, Jeff, told Portzline last month that he wanted “one more taste” from the Cup. Unfortunately, the victory came a little late for Simon.
But the wait is over for Cleveland sports fans.