A Midseason Review

The old adage that “numbers don’t lie” isn’t always a true statement. In the case of the 2008-09 Lake Erie Monsters, the numbers don’t even begin to describe where the team is at the halfway point of the season. With a 17-22-1-5 record, the Monsters currently sit in sixth place in the North Division. But to suggest their rank in the standings indicates where the team is through its first 45 games would be a near-sighted observation.

From an individual point of view, the Monsters have developed and groomed many young players to take the next step in their careers. Three players – Phil Dupuis, Chris Durno and Chris Stewart – have all made their NHL debuts with Lake Erie’s NHL affiliate, the Colorado Avalanche, this year. Perhaps the player making the biggest impact among those three has been Stewart, Colorado’s 2006 first round pick. With Colorado, Stewart has registered 11 points (6G, 5A), appeared in 22 games and put up 30 penalty minutes.

Durno, however, has played a more important role with the Monsters. He currently leads the team in goals (10), assists (16), points (26), shots (112), power play goals (5), power play assists (5) and power play points (10). Dupuis currently paces the team in the plus/minus category with a +11 rating.

Lake Erie has also sent up three others for extended stays with Colorado as Kyle Cumiskey, T.J. Hensick and Brian Willsie have spent time in Denver. Hensick and Willsie have been up with the Avalanche for the longest time period. Hensick, Colorado’s third round selection in 2005, has put up 15 points (4G, 11A) through 34 games with Colorado. His plus/minus rating of +4 ties him for second on the team.

Willsie, an NHL veteran of 350 games, has recorded four points (1G, 3A) and six penalty minutes in 15 contests with the Avalanche. Earlier in the season, Willsie set the standard in the league with a goal in six consecutive contests. That number is second best this season in the AHL and is a Monsters franchise record. Cumiskey, a seventh round pick by Colorado in 2005, has played in five games with the Avalanche.

Cumiskey, along with goaltender Tyler Weiman, are also scheduled to appear at the AHL All-Star game on January 26th in Worcester, Massachusetts. Weiman has been a rock in goal for the Monsters, and his numbers are a testament to that statement. Weiman currently is tied for the league lead with five shutouts, is fifth in the league with a 2.35 GAA and is seventh in the AHL with a 0.923 save percentage. Cumiskey currently leads all Lake Erie blueliners in goals (5), assists (12), points (17) and is tied for second on the team in the plus/minus category with a +7 rating.

As a team, one of Lake Erie’s better efforts came during their home and season opener, in front of 10,868 fans on October 11th at Quicken Loans Arena against the Grand Rapids Griffins. In the 4-3 overtime win, the team received goals from four different players, all of whom were new acquisitions. Marty Sertich notched Lake Erie’s first goal of the year, followed by tallies from Jesse Boulerice and Nigel Williams. But the biggest goal undoubtedly came from the stick of Brian Willsie, who sent the home crowd into a frenzy with his game-winner at the 1:18 mark into the extra frame. The game also featured a strong effort from goaltender Jason Bacashihua, who turned aside 33 of 36 shots from the Griffins.

Another game of note on the schedule was Lake Erie’s 6-4 win over Hamilton on November 9th at The Q. The six goals tie the most the Monsters have scored so far this season and the combined 10 goals is also a season-high for the team. Down 4-2 going into the third period, the Monsters’ offense ignited for four scores in 4:48 to blow past the Bulldogs. In the win, Lake Erie received its only hat trick to date this season from the stick of Stewart and an individual high in assists, as Cumiskey posted three helpers on the night.

The Monsters tied a season high in the AHL for goals in the third period this year on December 30th at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Trailing 2-1 going into regulation’s final frame, the offense sparked for five goals in a 6:47 span to propel the Monsters past the Aeros, 6-2.

Perhaps the most success the Monsters have achieved this season is against their North Division foe, the Toronto Marlies. In the six games against the Marlies, Lake Erie and goaltender Tyler Weiman have gone 4-1-0-1, earning nine of a possible 12 points. In those games, Weiman has made 185 saves on 198 Toronto shots.

Lake Erie also hit a milestone of sorts with the franchise’s 100th game, played on December 6th at The Q, a 2-1 overtime loss to the Iowa Chops.

Aside from being active on the ice, the Monsters have been busy in the greater Cleveland community as well. Teaming with the Ohio Lottery, 12 different players, along with team mascot, Sullivan C. Goal, broadcaster, John Michael, and in-arena host, Olivier Sedra, have gone into schools in Northeast Ohio for the “Monsters Respect Tour.” During the event, players, Michael and Sedra all speak to the students about how they have reached their goals today using the values of respect and hard work.

For an up-close and personal view into the life of a Lake Erie Monster, the team has conducted “Tour With the Monsters,” an event where the team conducts a practice in a local rink and stays on the ice afterward to skate with fans and sign autographs. So far, the tour has made five stops, and each time, the fans have gotten a first hand experience of what it’s like to be a professional hockey player.

One of the Monsters more heated battles came against a team that won’t be found in the AHL or any professional hockey league for that matter. On January 13th, five players went to St. Mary of the Woods Assisted Living Community to take on the Battling Beagles in a game of noodle hockey. Although the team competes regularly with some of the AHL’s best, they proved no match for the Beagles, as the team of St. Mary residents took the game, 10-5.

In perhaps one of the bigger role reversals in Cleveland hockey history, the Monsters swapped hockey jerseys for aprons as guest waiters on January 12th at Local Heroes in support of “The Littlest Heroes,” a non profit group that supports children with cancer and their families in Northeast Ohio. At the end of the night, when the team finished serving food, cleaning dishes and spills and hosting two groups of patrons, they had raised $4,300 for the charity, a fight the Monsters surely will drop the gloves for each time the opportunity presents itself.

At recent games this year, fans haven’t been the only supporters of Lake Erie hockey. The team has hosted champion boxer Kelly Pavlik and had Cleveland Cavaliers Anderson Varajeo, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and J.J. Hickson make appearances at games. One of the more popular promotional nights was John McCain/Barack Obama bobble head night. On October 17th against the Norfolk Admirals, all children picked the bobble head of the presidential nominee they wanted to see in office. It was a way to give those who couldn’t vote a voice, and the Ohio youth provided some foreshadowing, as the majority of the bobble heads given out were that of future President Barack Obama.

Another popular night at The Q is “Dollar Dog Fridays,” in which all hot dogs and 16-ounce Pepsi products are available to fans for $1. Still remaining on the schedule of exciting promotions and giveaways will be the Sully Bobblehead night, a Josh Cribbs appearance, a team postgame autograph session, and, the promotion that drew in a season record in attendance in the AHL last year of 15,408, Fan Appreciation Night.

If you’ve missed the first half of regular season action at The Q, there’s no need to worry: the Monsters have 16 action packed games remaining at home and would love to see you in attendance!

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