View From the Booth...Congrats, Colorado

Hello again, hockey fans, and welcome to another playoff edition of "The View From The Booth." I want to first start by saying congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche organization for an incredible season. I know the Avs season ended on Saturday, April 24th at the Pepsi Center in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks, but when you consider where the Monsters parent club was last season and the progress they made this season, a congratulations is definitely in order.

Last season the Avs finished in last place in the Western Conference with just 69 points. This season, they finished 26 points better than the 2008-2009 season and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You need a lot more than just luck for that to happen and the Avs had the right mix in their turnaround season.

Certainly drafting players like Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly helped the cause, and GM Greg Sherman and his staff did an outstanding job of landing two cornerstones for the franchise to build around. Another key factor, and quite possibly the biggest piece to the puzzle, was the signing of goaltender Craig Anderson. In a word, Anderson was amazing for the Avs in the regular season and in the playoffs. He was the difference in extending the series with the top-seeded Sharks to six games.

Another key piece, or in this case, pieces to the Avs puzzle this season, were the former Lake Erie Monsters who stepped up and played key roles in the Avs turnaround and their run to the playoffs. The Avs had 10 rookies on their team this season, and 12 players who were under 26 years of age. A majority of those players came from "the farm" right here in Cleveland with the Monsters.

Leading the way was former first round draft pick Chris Stewart, who led the Avs with 28 goals. He was also second on the team with 64 points, trailing only U.S. Olympic team member Paul Stastny. T.J. Galiardi had a great rookie season with 15 goals and 24 points. Kyle Cumiskey played 61 games and registered seven goals and 13 assists to go with his blazing speed that Monsters fans grew accustomed to here in Cleveland.

And then there is Brandon Yip, who we barely knew here in Cleveland. Yip only played six games for the Monsters this season in the month of December before being called up by the Avs. His first pro goal was a sign that this young man was ready for the show. He broke in up the left wing, used his body to shield off a Grand Rapids defender like Cam Neely used to do, and scored a highlight-reel goal. I remember calling the goal and I nearly came out of my shoes. It was such a high-end play by a young man who was clearly NHL ready. He played only five more games before getting the call from the Avs.

Just a few more thoughts on Yip now. First off all, he didn't play for the Monsters or Avs the first two months of the season because he tore a tendon and damaged his right hand in a fight in the preseason. His road to full recovery and playing shape and, more importantly, game shape, was long and grueling.

Over the first month or so of the season Yip could only do off-ice training and rehab and then he started to slowly ease into skating in practice after the full team was done with their daily practice and drills. I remember watching Yip after practice at Hoover Arena in Strongsville day-after-day. He worked himself so hard, skating and skating before eventually working in some stickhandling and shooting drills once his right hand was fully recovered. I have to say, in all my years of covering sports and being around the sport of hockey, I don't think I've seen a player work harder to get back on to the playing field, or in this case, the ice.

Brandon Yip is a tremendous example of what hard work and determination can do. And to top it off, Yip is just a great young man in every sense. It was really nice to see him on the ice during the regular season and playoffs every night and to be rewarded with his dream to play in the NHL. He's a person that clearly deserves it!

And now I want to talk about Chris Durno, who, like Yip, is just a great person. He was one of many of our players who welcomed me into the team in my rookie season this past year with the Monsters. He's just one of those guys you pull for because he's a good guy and he works his tail off. I remember seeing both Durno and Yip in the lobby of our hotel in Winnipeg back in December before they left for Denver for good this season. I could see it on Durno's face when I walked off the elevator, he was beaming from ear-to-ear and I was equally happy for Durno, who made the most of his opportunity with the Avs. He played in 41 games for the Avs this season, scoring four goals and setting up four others. Not bad for a guy who was never drafted and had to fight, scratch and claw for his chance to make the NHL.

There is someone else I want to talk about now who spent a short time with the Monsters at the start of the season and that's defenseman Ryan Wilson. Like Yip, we barely knew Wilson, he only played three games for the Monsters. I didn't get to know Wilson like I did Yip, because he was only around for the first couple of weeks of the season.

Ryan Wilson is a high-end, young talent. He is tough and he can pass and shoot the puck. I vividly remember our home opener against Rockford on October 10th when Wilson came to the defense of one of his teammates who was crushed on a huge hit by Rockford defenseman Richard Petiot. Wilson immediately dropped his gloves and then began to land punch-after-punch on Petiot. It was that kind of toughness that helped land Wilson in the NHL. He played 61 games with the Avs this season, scoring three goals and dishing out 18 assists for 21 points.

Wilson, Durno and Yip all made their marks here in Cleveland with the Monsters and all three players deserved to be in the NHL with the Avs this past season. It was a joy for me to watch them in the playoffs and I wish them the very best next season.

Speaking of the playoffs, they have been absolutely great so far this spring and coming up soon I will weigh in with some new updated thoughts and predictions on the AHL and NHL playoffs in a future installment of "The View From The Booth." Until then, enjoy the playoffs!


Ben Holden

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