CLEVELAND – With 11.1 seconds remaining in overtime, the Lake Erie Monsters were set up for an offensive zone faceoff. The score was knotted at zero. The 19,665 fans, mainly decked out in white, waited anxiously. It was getting late, and everyone was on edge for what would be the first and deciding goal of this game.
The Monsters had a commanding three games to zero over the Hershey Bears in the 2016 Calder Cup Final. Quicken Loans Arena at capacity with fans from near and far, all hoping to see a historic moment unfold live. The nervous energy was palpable. The team, with head coach Jared Bednar at the helm, seemed to know how to handle each moment with confidence.
Appearing steady, Lukas Sedlak lowered down to take the faceoff. Markus Hannikainen was set up in the slot, while Oliver Bjorkstrand was posted up- all alone- on the outside. Zach Werenski stood ready along the boards, while his defensive partner Steve Eminger waited up top. Sedlak won the faceoff and immediately passed the puck back to Werenski. He found a lane and shot it towards Hershey Bears goaltender Justin Peters, but the puck was blocked along the way.
With just 7.3 seconds remaining, Werenski picks up the rebound and sends it back on the net. Sedlak finds the rebound and shoots it back on Peters. The puck trickles off to the goalie’s left-hand side, where Bjorkstrand was waiting. A scrambling Peters denied his first shot, but Bjorkstrand somehow finds the rebound in traffic. With 1.9 seconds remaining, while covered by two Bears players, he gets his stick on the puck and lifts it in on an almost impossible angle.
They score! The Monsters score! The dream was so real, it had to come true! And after 52 years of waiting, Mr. Calder, welcome home to Cleveland.”
Cleveland Monsters Fans Relive 2016 Championship Moment with Emotion and Excitement
For many fans of the Cleveland Monsters, Tony Brown‘s legendary call recalls many emotions and memories from that fateful night in 2016. The memories are still so cherished and important to the team that the Cleveland Monsters are honoring Bjorkstrand’s contribution and memorable post-goal celebration on Friday night against the Laval Rocket. The first 10,000 fans will receive a collectible Bjorkstrand bobblehead in celebration of the goal that brought Cleveland their first professional hockey championship since 1964. It also celebrates his awarding of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Calder Cup Playoffs. In total, Bjorkstrand tallied ten goals that postseason. Bjorkstrand also set an AHL record with three overtime goals and tied a record with six game-winning goals in a single postseason.
This moment back in 2016 and now the bobblehead giveaway have several Monsters fans reliving that day with fondness and, for others, deep emotion. Let’s take a look at six of these stories that were graciously shared with me. Some stories have been slightly edited for clarity.
What I remember most about that day was just the energy from the fans around the building. I was sitting in the upper 200 level, about four rows to the front, and you could just feel that something magical and historic was taking place. Even in the concourse and bathroom, it felt like history was going to be made tonight. There was a buzz throughout the arena. I’ve been to many Monsters games and had never felt that before.
Before the goal happened, there was an icing with 11.1 seconds left. My dad said, “faceoff in their zone. Anything can happen.” I didn’t honestly believe him since it was a scoreless game. I just remember seeing a couple of shots at the net: one was blocked, then Oliver taking a whack at it. Then, it was just nuts! It was like an eruption from the sellout crowd. Throughout the game, there were some great saves by Hershey and us that kept it scoreless, so the anticipation was through the roof. I was jumping up and down yelling once we scored; it was so loud in there. It was truly the best hockey game I’ve ever been to and one I’ll never forget. It’s important that we don’t forget about how historical all of that was. Because of that goal in overtime, we won a championship. It doesn’t get much better than that! It’s only right that we honor that with a giveaway.
From May until October that year, it seemed like Cleveland was checking all the boxes. From Stipe Miocic (2016 UFC Heavyweight Championship winner from the Cleveland area), the Monsters, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the Cleveland Indians. I even thought that the Browns were going to have a winning season, because “why not?”
I remember being VERY nervous in those last few seconds of the game. I assumed that the Cleveland sports curse was going to rear its ugly head, and somehow the Monsters were going to lose their momentum. When that shot went in, I honestly think it took me a beat to process that it was real. It was a good goal. No one was going to take that back from us.
I just remember everyone going nuts: everyone was cheering, and some were crying. Hugs and high fives were contagious. I felt incredibly blessed to have had the chance to not only celebrate that win with my oldest son but also to share it with all the other fans and the team. I don’t think it would’ve had the same feel for the fans and players if they had won it in Hershey. Plus, let’s face it; a lot of us were probably soaking it all in, not knowing when we’d ever be part of something like that again.
I think that it’s great that the Monsters are honoring Ollie with the bobblehead. He is the one to score the game-winning goal, but we need to remember that the whole team worked their butts off that season.
Hallie Friedman Greenberg
This event will never be forgotten. It was my daughter’s birthday. She made a special sign that said, “For my birthday, I want a Monsters win and the Cup.” In the corner, she wrote #winitforphil and #winitformyUnc. We lost my brother-in-law around the time (long-time assistant equipment manager) Phil Simon passed. My brother-in-law had been a huge hockey fan since he was little.
We were able to be in the tunnel and wish the boys much luck while my daughter held up her sign, cheering them on and high fiving them. The smiles when they saw her sign and her excitement made my night even more special.
It was a nail biter game. You can hear the hush of the crowd and the sighs after a goal was missed. Then, our Oliver Bjorkstand made that winning goal. The crowd went nuts. The cries of joy, the tears that flew, the slapping of the glass, the high fives heard throughout the arena. We watched strangers hug and high five. They are Monsters fans forever. The excitement was overwhelming, and I had never hugged my husband and daughter so hard.
My daughter was filled with excitement as she held up her sign and shouted, as loud as she could, “Thank you for making my birthday the best ever!” Then, our family went silent for a few minutes. With tears in our eyes, we looked up at heaven and said, “This one’s for you, Phil and Unc (that’s our nickname for my brother-in-law).” We then blew him a kiss and continued to celebrate with not only the team but the Lake Erie Monster fans who stuck through it all!
We are all heartbroken he wasn’t here to witness this great accomplishment. As my daughter said, “Mom, he has a front-row seat next to Phil, watching and cheering, just like us.” A little piece of him will always be with my daughter. She’s a hockey fan for life, just like him.
I was so nervous that I couldn’t stand up. I was watching the game between the people standing around me while thinking another overtime was coming. Then, I saw the goal and bolted up out of my seat. While I intellectually understood what was going, I still couldn’t believe it. You know the phrase, “They’re going to have to throw me out of here”? Well, I was one of many fans who had to be told by security that it was time to leave.
What I remember most about the goal is feeling a huge pressure lifted off our shoulders. I was sitting in the lower bowl with my best friend on the other side of the rink. So, we didn’t have a great view of the net. That feeling of winning a championship for the first time in my life is hard to capture in words.
My brother has gone to every home opener and was sitting with his best friend. We grew up with the Monsters with their first season when we were seven & nine and years old. My first Monsters game was sitting next to the penalty box in 2007. After all of those years, we finally got the ultimate prize. From little kids into adults, I was 18, and he was 15 when they finally won it all. It meant the world to us.
Every time Oliver Bjorkstrand scores for the Columbus Blue Jackets, I get flashbacks to winning the Calder Cup Championship. He’ll forever be a legend in my eyes. My grandmother helped run the Cleveland Barons booster club back in the mid-1900s, so hockey is in our blood. We gave her a Championship ring and Championship banner. Unfortunately, she passed away last November.
Honestly, I don’t remember the exact goal, but I remember the excitement in the crowd. The place was electric. It was actually my first Monsters game and I doubt any game will ever top it. My brother-in-law was a Hershey Bears fan, so I remember trash-talking him all night. I even bought a onesie for our soon to be nephew before the game. We had a bet that whoever lost would have to dress their baby in the winning team’s swag. Though, I knew we were going to win. I just felt it in the air. I’ll be honest; I was glad I wasn’t further along in my pregnancy, because I may have put myself into labor from all the excitement! It was a special experience and memory to have with my husband and parents. I think it’s great they’re honoring Bjorkstrand! We’re blessed to have a player like him in our organization.
My Thoughts and Experience
My husband and I were there that game, as fans, on the glass just to the right of Peters in overtime. The nervousness and excitement of the crowd were thick and palpable. They rode every high and low of the game as one collective being. From the chants of “we believe that we will win” to “let’s go Monsters,” the crowd was one voice, one breath, united.
Then, the oh so important icing call. The hustle by the Monsters players to get that call was the catalyst that set them up for victory. I remember holding onto my husband tightly while cheering on the team.
As Bjorkstrand battled for the puck, I remember yelling, “Get it in!” Looking back, I laugh that of all things to yell, it was that. Who can blame any fan for almost anything they yell in a moment like that, though? Then came a cheer so loud, I thought we had dislodged the roof from the arena! High fives and hugs with friends, family, and strangers. It didn’t matter- we were all united that night. All 19,665 of us experienced something historic.
Reading everyone’s stories took me through a rollercoaster of emotions, and I’m incredibly honored that so many reached out to share them with me. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you all! While I couldn’t include everyone’s story, I genuinely enjoyed reading them all.
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