View From The Booth...Memorable Month

Hello again, hockey fans, and welcome to another edition of "The View From The Booth!" It's been a while since I last wrote one of these. In fact, it was at the end of the six-game, 11-day road trip that had the Monsters playing at Hamilton, at Rochester, and way out in Western Canada to face the Abbotsford Heat. Let's start by looking back at the road trip. Then I will touch on the record-setting crowd and the fact that the Monsters have managed to climb into the top four in the North Division.

First, a look at the six-game road trip, which is the second longest trip the Monsters have had this season. It was a great trip. The Monsters returned to Cleveland after going 4-2 on the trip. It started with a loss at Hamilton but then had the Monsters winning less than 24 hours later in Rochester, New York. In the game at Rochester, the Monsters had Rochester native Billy Sauer in net and he did not disappoint. Sauer made more than 30 saves in the game, giving his team a chance to win and they did just that. Phil Dupuis, who has now scored seven goals in five games against Rochester this season, opened the scoring on the afternoon of January 9th. It wasn't until the third period that the Monsters broke a 1-1 tie when Marty Sertich tipped in a Ray Macias shot for the game winner in the 3-1 win.

Two days later, Sertich had the game-winner in overtime back in Hamilton with just over a minute left in the overtime session. That game was one of the best wins the Monsters have had all season. They only had five defensemen dressed that night and it was simply a gritty, committed, hard-fought victory.

Two nights later in Hamilton, the Monsters again beat the best team in the Western Conference and the North Division as they skated away with another hard fought win over Hamilton. On that night, T.J. Hensick scored the winning goal. It's been incredible to watch T.J.'s offensive creativity and skill take games over. To be honest, I have seen that for a long time as I called dozens of games at the University of Michigan for various TV networks before joining the Monsters. Hensick's skill and ability is one reason why the Monsters have climbed out of the North Division cellar and now are right in the thick of the playoff race.

From Hamilton we made our way to Toronto to fly across the continent to Abbotsford, British Columbia, which is about an hour from Vancouver. I really enjoyed the trip out there. The people were so friendly and nice and the scenery around Abbotsford is awesome. Plenty of mountains and open space! The arena the Heat play in is very nice as well, and the folks that work there are just great people.

As for the games out there, the Monsters won the first night in a close, tightly-played game by David Quinn's team. The next afternoon, which was the final game of the six-game road trip, the Monsters had a 3-0 lead after the first period. Hensick, Mike Bartlett and Matt Ford scored goals to give the Monsters that three-goal cushion. But over the final 40 minutes, the Monsters ran out of gas against the Heat. Matt Ford was lost in the game after blocking a shot and the bench was thin. Abbotsford ended up winning the game, 6-3.

But a 4-2 road trip! That was dynamite for the Monsters, especially since they played one night with five defensemen, and another night they played with just 11 forwards. I call that a committed, hard working, gutsy effort by our guys!

Those are my thoughts on the road trip, as for what happened next for the Monsters and the organization, it was something very special that everyone in our organization is very proud of!

It was Friday night, January 22nd, 2010. There were 18,626 fans at the Monsters game! The attendance that night set a new franchise record for our three-year-old franchise. It was Shaq in a Monsters uniform bobblehead night, quite a marketing move by our staff! And I must say, the fans were treated to a one of a kind collectible and they were treated to one heck of a hockey game as well.

There were many nervous moments in the game. The Monsters had a 4-1 lead late in the game, only to watch it vaporize against a very tough and stingy Texas Stars team. But in the overtime, with 39 seconds left, rookie winger Justin Mercier scored the biggest goal of his young and promising career when he turned at the top of the circle and fired a shot past the blocker of Matt Climie for the game winner. The Q went crazy. What a finish and what an environment for everyone that was there to be a part of.

Now I have to be honest. After calling that game, I was spent emotionally. It was a game I will never forget and I know a night and a game our organization won't forget either! My hat off and thumbs up to everyone who took part in making the game and the night a special one!

A week later, on January 29th, it was another special night and special win for the Monsters organization as we welcomed in 1980 gold medal-winning goaltender Jim Craig, a true American sports hero. The team he played on laid claim to the biggest upset in American sports history. For me, personally meeting Jim Craig was a once in a lifetime experience. I have interviewed guys like Gordie Howe, Al Kaline, Lem Barney and Charlie Sanders – all men that are in their respective Sports Halls of Fame. But there was something even more special about meeting and interviewing Jim Craig. I was 9-years-old when the USA Hockey team beat the mighty and powerful Russians and as I told Jim, he and his teammates from that great team were and are the reason I fell in love with hockey and are the reason I am living my dream as a professional hockey play-by-play announcer.

Craig was an incredibly nice person; he took pictures and chatted with our entire hockey staff. Our COO, Randy Domain, presented Craig with a Lake Erie Monsters replica Team USA jersey, like the ones our players wore that night in a 6-3 win over Toronto. Craig asked all of us on the Monsters staff that were in the room that night to sign it. Now I call that a classy move by a classy man.

This past week the Monsters won two of three games at home. It started with a hard fought 3-2 win over Rochester. The Monsters were down 2-0 after the first period, but in the second period, their best period so far this season, the Monsters stepped up and scored three times in the period, including a pair of power play goals.

Friday night the Monsters had the first place team in the West Division at home, the Rockford IceHogs, also a team that had never lost at The Q. Unfortunately, the Monsters lost on Friday night, 5-3. However, they played a very good game, but just couldn't capitalize on some key chances late in the game.

Saturday afternoon the Monsters came back to The Q against the IceHogs and put forth another great effort, especially in the first period when they scored two goals and held the IceHogs to just one shot in the opening 20 minutes. T.J. Hensick scored two goals, Darren Haydar had one goal and two assists, Matt Ford got the game-winner, and Randy Rowe and Travis Gawryletz had big days offensively. Billy Sauer got the win in net, snapping a personal three-game losing streak. All in all, it was a great team win for the Monsters, who moved to the .500 mark and back into fourth place!

There are two players I want to mention, Randy Rowe and Tom Zanoski. Rowe is back for his second stint with the Monsters this season. He's a tough, gritty, hard-nosed player who just leaves everything on the ice. He returned from a back injury Friday night and scored two goals. Tom Zanoski is a fiery, hard-nosed competitor who scored his first goal with the Monsters in his first game! He is a great example of a player getting a shot at the next level and making the most of it. In fact, you could say that about many of our players. One more thing on Zanoski, he is a guy who always has a smile on his face!

And finally, I want to touch on is the fact that the Monsters have dug themselves out of a huge hole. Consider this: in the middle of December the Monsters were 8-16-0-3. As I write this now, the team is 24-24-0-4 and in fourth place in the North Division standings. Of course, the top four teams in the division make the playoffs. I realize there is a long way to go in the season, but I feel this team has the makings to continue to climb up the standings and do some special things in the playoffs. Our team has great leadership in guys like Brian Willsie, Darren Haydar, Brian Fahey and Matt Ford just to name a few of our players that general manager David Oliver has assembled for head coach David Quinn and his staff to work with!

I hope you will continue to support and cheer on the Monsters this season!

It will be another busy week for the Monsters this week. Wednesday, Milwaukee is at The Q for a 7:00 p.m. game. The last time the Admirals were here, they took the extra point in a shootout win, but it’s time for some payback this time around!

Friday, it's Tyler Weiman bobblehead night at The Q. The first 5,000 fans in the doors get to take home a Weiman bobblehead when the Monsters will face the first place Hamilton Bulldogs, a team the Monsters have won three of the last four games against.

Saturday is our last regular season game in Rochester against the Americans at Blue Cross Arena. So far this season, the Monsters are 5-1-0-0 against the Americans. I hope you'll join me for the call of these three games on ESPN 850 WKNR or on AHL Live at theahl.com.

There is only one more thing left to say...

GO MONSTERS!!!

Sincerely,

Ben Holden.

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