The dark horses of some but considered underdogs by most.
Despite recording their best season in franchise history, Lake Erie were still not expected to be in the mix when it came to crunch in the 2016 playoffs.
The Monsters easily disposed of Rockford in a sweep before defeating arch rivals, Grand Rapids Griffins, in six games.
The much fancied Ontario Reign were apparently supposed to put these upstarts in their place.
Far from it however, as Lake Erie swept Ontario to the astonishment of the hockey world.
So a team in just it’s ninth season of existence and without a playoff series win before this year, would the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup Final.
The Bears are the longest continuous operating team in the AHL and have won eleven Calder Championships, most recently a double in 2009 and 2010.
Winners of five of their last six finals, Hershey’s pedigree stood for nothing this year however as Lake Erie won the 2016 Calder Cup in a sweep, their third of the playoffs.
It’s the second time the Bears have lost a final without registering a win, the first in 1961, and the 19th in AHL history.
The Monsters were simply too good for the Bears in Chocolate Town.
Wins of 4-1 and 5-3 for Lake Erie as Hershey failed to halt the Monsters potent offense.
The series switched to Cleveland and Hershey were able to step up their game to go toe-to-toe, mostly due to some exceptional goaltending from Justin Peters.
Game three saw Hershey take the lead as they did in game one, but the teams would be deadlocked at two after sixty minutes.
Lake Erie had out-shot the visitors 28-19 through regulation and the first shot from the Monsters, 80 seconds into the first extra frame clinched victory.
Game four would prove a tale of outstanding goaltending.
Justin Peters and Anton Forsberg gave everything they had and overtime would be required for the second straight occasion. In a tremendous advert from the American League and a game full of action and drama, the end would be fitting.
Lake Erie managing to score the winner with 1.9 seconds left in the first period of overtime.
The Monsters finished their first season as the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate by winning a championship, the first in the organisations history.
Lake Erie’s created more history with a 15-2 playoff record, the best ever by a Calder Cup winning team.
There were many outstanding performers for Lake Erie and it seems unjust to pick out individuals.
Anton Forsberg was 9-0 after taking the reins between the pipes. He recorded two shutouts, a 1.34GAA and .949 save percentage.
Oliver Bjorkstrand led all playoff scorers with ten goals and was rightly awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.
The rookie equalled the AHL record of six game-winning goals and set a new league record with three overtime goals. Five of his tallies were against Hershey, including the winners in games two, three and four.
Lukas Sedlak equalled Bjorkstrand’s 17 points tally but probably won’t receive as many plaudits. The centre man was point per game pace through the last nine games of the playoffs, including an overtime game winner that clinched the series win against Ontario Reign.
It’s still hard to fathom when watching him play, that Zach Werenski is an 18yo rookie.
The defenseman was Lake Erie’s leading points producer heading into the final and helped himself to a goal and two further assists, including a helper on the championship winning goal.
Ryan Craig has been Captain the last six seasons for whichever AHL team he’s been a part of, but never been past the second round of the playoffs.
After a poor regular season by his standards, Craig produced 13 points, ten of which were a team leading in assists.
The players often receive all the credit but much should be heaped on head honcho Jared Bednar and his coaching staff.
They were never unprepared during this historic season and that carried on into the post-season.
Sweeping an Ontario Reign team despite having never faced them during the regular season speaks volumes to the video analysis and implementation of the findings.
The same can be said for the Hershey series as it was the Bears who were playing catch-up and making adjustments to compensate through.
As Ryan Craig hoisted the Calder Cup above his head, Cleveland hockey fans could celebrate a hockey championship for the first time since 1964.
It was just reward for a franchise-record crowd of 19,665, the second-largest in AHL playoff history.