The Road Less Traveled

Photo courtesy of Greg Hamil
When the Monsters skated off the Quicken Loans Arena ice after a 6-5 shootout win Sunday, February 28th against the Grand Rapids Griffins, the team knew it would have quite some time before they would play in front of their home fans again.

After giving his postgame interview that Sunday, captain Brian Willsie asserted that notion by telling the media, “We’ll see you in a month.”

While Willsie’s light-hearted comment was a bit off – the team actually is gone for 19 days in between home games – it asserted the fact that the captain and his club knew it would be awhile before they’d be playing hockey in Ohio again.

The trip – consisting of seven games and spanning 11 days – takes the team through two countries, two states and one province. From the time the team left Cleveland for Rockford, Illinois, in early March until their return in the middle of 2010’s third month from Abbotsford, British Columbia, the road-heavy schedule will have Cleveland’s pro hockey team log 5,684 miles of travel in less than two weeks time.

When the Monsters moved west in the beginning stages of the month, they departed for the state which is responsible for one-fourth of America’s bituminous coal reserves, Illinois. Also home to the world’s largest cookie and cracker factory – the Nabisco plant in Chicago is responsible for 320 pounds annually of snack foods – the Monsters play three of their seven games on the road trip in the Land of Lincoln.

Aside from the aforementioned facts, Illinois, the sixth-most populous state in the country, is the birthplace of Monsters Mike Bartlett, Brian Fahey and Tom Preissing.

After their first game of the trip – a March 3rd contest against the Rockford IceHogs – Lake Erie travels north to America’s Dairy Land. The second and fifth games of the road trip, pitting the Monsters against the Milwaukee Admirals, put Lake Erie’s leading scorer, Darren Haydar, back in a familiar place. Putting on an Admirals sweater from 2002-06, Haydar played a large part in bringing the Calder Cup to the state of Wisconsin in 2004 with Milwaukee.

Following the Monsters brief stay in Wisconsin, the team’s travel schedule takes them back to Illinois for games against the Peoria Rivermen and another one of Haydar’s former teams, the Chicago Wolves. Playing in the Windy City for two seasons, Haydar’s second Calder Cup came with the Wolves and Fahey in 2008.

Before the team leaves for western Canada, the Monsters travel back to the state that is the country’s top producer in cheese, Wisconsin. Ranking in the top one-fourth of all U.S. states in farm income and manufactured goods, Wisconsin is also where Matt Ford and Fahey played college hockey, as the two suited up for the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

With the road trip’s end in sight, the Monsters take a 2,000 plus-mile plane ride to Canada’s most-western province, British Columbia, to take on the Abbotsford Heat March 12th and 13th. The home province of Josh Aspenlind, Brock Bradford and Travis Gawryletz, British Columbia is third only to New York and Los Angeles in the film and TV production industry.

Canada’s third-largest generator of hydro electricity and the country’s second-largest natural gas provider, British Columbia will be the final destination of the Monsters road trip. After their weekend games with the Heat, the road-weary Monsters return to Cleveland on Sunday, March 14th and will have a few days off before hosting the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday, March 19th for Pink the Rink night.

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