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52-year wait ends in unforgettable fashion

by Patrick Williams / Columbus Blue Jackets

CLEVELAND -- The Lake Erie Monsters ended 52 years of waiting for Cleveland fans by winning the Calder Cup with a 1-0 overtime win against the Hershey Bears on Saturday to complete a four-game sweep of the American Hockey League's championship series.

Forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the Cup-winning goal game with 1.9 seconds remaining in the first overtime when he controlled a rebound to the left of Hershey goaltender Justin Peters and bounced it over the goal line.

Bjorkstrand, a 21-year-old rookie, led all playoff scorers with 10 goals and finished with 16 points in 17 games, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason. He tied an AHL record with six game-winning goals and set a league record with three overtime goals.

Five of Bjorkstrand's goals came in the sweep of Hershey.

"I'm happy I could help out with those [goals]," said Bjorkstrand, who was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round (No. 89) of the 2013 NHL Draft. "It's a team effort. Everything comes together. Everyone played a big role."

"You learn a lot from the playoffs. I learned a lot. When people look at your stats, they look at your playoff runs and championships."

Lake Erie drew a franchise-record crowd of 19,665, the second-largest in AHL playoff history, to Quicken Loans Arena to see Cleveland's first hockey championship in any league since the Cleveland Barons won their ninth and final Calder Cup in 1964.

"It's an incredible feeling," Lake Erie coach Jared Bednar said. "I couldn't be more proud of these guys."

Monsters goaltender Anton Forsberg made 23 saves for his ninth consecutive win. The 23-year-old took over after Joonas Korpisalo struggled late in the second-round playoff series against Grand Rapids; he finished with a 9-0 record, a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.

"I'm so proud of this group," Forsberg said of the Monsters, who went 43-22-6-5 and finished second in the Central Division in the regular season. "I felt the whole [season] that we had the talent to go the whole way."

Two of the four games between Hershey and Lake Erie went to overtime. Game 4 was the ninth in AHL history to go into overtime scoreless.

The win capped off a 15-2 postseason for Lake Erie and gave the organization its first Calder Cup championship. The Monsters finished their first season as the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate by winning their final nine games and sweeping three of four playoff series. They won 24 of their final 28 games dating to the final month of the regular season.

"[The city] embraced us as soon as we got here," Bednar said. "With the Columbus affiliation, I think the fans were excited about it. The players were excited about it. When you can come and play in a building like this, how can you not be?"

Among the players expected to compete for NHL jobs at training camp in September are Forsberg, Bjorkstrand, forward Lukas Sedlak (nine playoff goals), forward Josh Anderson and 18-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, the eighth player taken in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"It's huge," Anderson said. "You look at recent Calder Cup champions, everybody gets a better opportunity, a better look."

It was the 19th sweep in the history of the Calder Cup Finals, and the first time Hershey has been swept in the Finals since 1961. The Bears have reached the Calder Cup final five times since beginning their affiliation with the Washington Capitals in 2005. They eliminated the regular-season champion Toronto Marlies in the Eastern Conference Finals to earn their trip to the championship round.

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