Wednesday at the Q, the silence between pucks tinking off the goal posts and clacking onto sticks was filled with the sound of fans. These fans were whirring, though, not cheering.
I was the lone spectator for the Lake Erie Monsters’ morning practice, and while there were some nasty glove saves and wrist shots, I would have felt awkward cheering.
The Monsters, Cleveland’s American Hockey League team, are returning to the ice this weekend after the four-year-old franchise’s best season. From their first-round playoff loss last year, they are moving forward—and with great speed.
Center Ryan Stoa says the coaches have been “harping on us to do everything fast.” Shooting and passing drills were so rapid that by the time I located the puck, it had already visited five players and been kicked by a left pad.
Stoa, drafted in 2009, has played 37 games with the Monsters’ parent club, the Colorado Avalanche. The 24-year-old is one of the 12 players from last year’s Monsters roster to stay with the team for the start of this season. When more than half of your 22- or 23-person roster is made up of guys the veterans haven’t played with before, it takes some adjusting.
Trevor Cann, in his third season goaltending for the Monsters, says the team is “jelling” during practices. As the players work on power plays, breakouts, faceoffs, defensive and offensive zones, coaches are developing the lines and seeing who works best together.
This kind of team development led to a standout 2010-2011 season. The Monsters finished second in the North Division with a franchise-best 44 wins. The team’s popularity among Clevelanders grew. The Monsters had an average attendance of 6,568, sixth out of 30 AHL teams, and a league-best average playoff attendance of 8,069.
Players say they’re excited for the season opener against the Abbotsford Heat Friday night. “There is no better feeling than getting a win and hanging out with the guys afterwards,” says Cann.
After two hours of practice, some stragglers were still skating and taking turns shooting at one of the goalies. Team communications manager Sarah Jamieson told them it was time to quit.
Like the child who doesn’t want to come in at dusk, a player skated up to the bench and pleaded, “Just one more drill?”
The Monsters start their season at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Cleveland Magazine is a monthly city magazine focusing on Northeast Ohio. Our audience is educated, engaged readers who want the stories behind the headlines. We delve into the people who shape the region, past, present and future. Check us out at clevelandmagazine.com