CLEVELAND – Last week’s Game 4 between the Lake Erie Monsters and Ontario Reign was “minor league” in name only.
Everything else about the experience was something to savor for a promising team that has become a great team over the last seven months. Nearly 11,000 people jammed into Quicken Loans Arena to watch their team vie for its first-ever berth in the Calder Cup Finals (which begin tonight in Hershey), and to do so, they had to take down the defending champions one last time.
Fingernails eroded, palms sweaty and butts on the edge of seats, they finally got what they came for after nearly 90 minutes of hockey.
Lukas Sedlak, who has become some kind of story this spring, opened and closed the scoring in Game 4. A perhaps unlikely candidate to lead this talented team in playoff scoring, Sedlak has not only been lights-out offensively but he’s also been tasked with the toughest assignments and plays in all situations.
The first strike came 6:26 into the first period after the Monsters weathered an early, desperate push from the Reign – a thrust they knew was coming. Kerby Rychel, who’s having himself a strong postseason, slipped a pass from behind the net out front to Sedlak, who chipped it past Peter Budaj for a 1-0 lead.
After so many chances, close calls and missed opportunities in the second period, third period and first 20-minute overtime, the Monsters got a quality look in the second overtime and Sedlak knew where to go.
Josh Anderson barreled his way into the slot mere moments after absorbing a heavy hit in the corner. His shot deflected into Sedlak’s pants before ricocheting off Budaj and into the crease, where Sedlak was camped to bury the biggest goal in Monsters franchise history.
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“This (conference championship) is exciting,” Sedlak said. “But I’m hoping the next round is going to end well for us.”
Not even a decade old, the Monsters are in the Calder Cup Finals thanks to a balanced, driven group of players; they have AHL veterans like Ryan Craig, Jaime Sifers and Trent Vogelhuber providing leadership to exciting youngsters like Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Zach Werenski and many others.
They have two extremely talented No. 1 goaltenders who are the best of friends on and off the ice, having battled for playing time all season long and who only recently reversed roles with Anton Forsberg taking over for Joonas Korpisalo in the conference semifinals against Grand Rapids.
Along the way, there was just enough adversity that could’ve derailed this thing, but the Monsters continue to push forward as a group.
They’re a team: a committed, determined unit that represents the thrilling present of one team and the exciting future of another.
“It speaks for the group we have,” Monsters coach Jared Bednar said. “I’m a fan of this group. They’re growing every day and I want the best for them. They’re finding ways to get it done. Every night, someone else is stepping up and helping us get the job done…it’s a complete team effort.”
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