The Year That Was...2008-09

The 2008-09 season was one of marked improvement for the Lake Erie Monsters, as the team trumped almost every statistical category from their inaugural season.

Finishing with a record of 34-38-3-5, the Monsters recorded eight more wins and 11 more points than in 2007-08. The club loaned 15 players to their NHL affiliate, the Colorado Avalanche, during the season, with 14 seeing action with the Avs. Eleven of those players – Chris Durno, Phil Dupuis, T.J. Galiardi, Matt Hendricks, Per Ledin, Ray Macias, Aaron MacKenzie, Wes O’Neill, Derek Peltier, Chris Stewart and Mike Vernace – made their NHL debuts. Galiardi and Stewart scored their first goals in the NHL while Macias recorded his first point in the NHL with an assist.

In terms of single game success, the Monsters recorded their most lopsided win with a 6-0 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on February 25th. Lake Erie’s ability to string together victories was also evident, as the team’s five-game winning streak in late February, as well as their five consecutive wins at home from late January to late February, were franchise records.

In between the pipes, Tyler Weiman became the first Monster to lead the league in a statistical category, as he was tops among all AHL netminders with eight shutouts. A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Weiman set new standards for Lake Erie goalies, finishing the season with 21 wins, a 2.46 GAA and a .915 save percentage to go along with his lofty shutout total.

The Monsters other netminder, Jason Bacashihua, also set a few franchise marks, as the eight-year pro rattled off eight consecutive wins from mid-February to early March. Bacashihua also became the first Monster player to capture AHL Player of the Week honors, as he won the award for the week ending March 1st. In that seven day span, Bacashihua was a perfect 3-0, recording two shutouts and compiling a 0.65 GAA and a .973 save percentage.

In terms of offense, Phil Dupuis led the team with 46 points and 29 assists while captain Chris Durno’s 18 goals were tops on the Monsters squad. Prior to being recalled by the Avalanche, T.J. Hensick and Brian Willsie led the Monsters in most offensive categories and finish the year with the best points per game average, with Hensick averaging 1.33 points per match and Willsie putting up 1.17 points each game.

With the numerous call-ups to Colorado, the team topped the league in transactions, as 57 players suited up in Monsters jerseys this year. Despite the revolving door that was the Monsters locker room, the team stayed competitive, remaining in the playoff hunt until game 76 of the 80-game regular season. Lake Erie was also represented at the 2009 AHL All-Star game as defenseman Kyle Cumiskey and Weiman suited up for the Canadian All-Star Team.

The team also was active off the ice, as the Monsters made seven school appearances, two hospital visits, helped coach local youth hockey teams and appeared at rinks around Northeast Ohio for open practices which the team would stay on the ice afterward to skate with fans and sign autographs.

In early October, three Monsters – Bacashihua, Dupuis and Weiman – served as celebrity waiters at the Make-A-Wish dinner, serving patrons and helping to auction off items for the foundation. In early January, the whole team participated in the first annual “Tip-A-Monster” event at Local Heroes Grill and Bar. The players traded gloves for aprons, serving as waiters to raise money for “The Littlest Heroes,” a non-profit organization in Northeast Ohio that supports children with cancer and their families. At the end of the night, the team had raised $4,300 for the organization. By season’s end, the team had donated more than $13,600 and 4,500 tickets.

Just as the season ended, head coach Joe Sacco received the final accolades of the year, as Sacco was named an assistant coach to the 2009 U.S. Men’s National Team that will compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation's World Championships from April 24th to May 10th in Switzerland.

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