Cleveland Realizes a Championship After All, Thanks to the Monsters

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The Hershey Bears’ Jakub Vrana, left, and the Lake Erie Monsters’ Dean Kukan battling for the puck in the Calder Cup finals.

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Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News, via Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Late Saturday morning, about 10 hours after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals, dozens of workers in wine-colored shirts were stuffing trash bags and sweeping out the aisles inside Quicken Loans Arena.

A record crowd of 19,665 packed the place at night, but not to watch LeBron James. Cleveland’s minor-league hockey team, the Lake Erie Monsters, delivered in its pursuit of a title — for the players and their newly adopted and championship-starved city.

“We’re aware of what’s gone on here,” Ryan Craig, the Monsters’ 34-year-old captain, said of playing in Cleveland.

The basketball nets and court, as well as a few thousand seats, had been stashed away, and these Monsters, in their first year as an affiliate of the N.H.L.’s Columbus Blue Jackets, reclaimed the freshly Zambonied sheet of ice for a laugh-filled and rambunctious morning skate.

Unlike the Cavaliers, who trail the Warriors by three games to one, the Monsters gave themselves an excellent chance to win the shiny chalice representing their league’s supremacy by winning the first three games of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup finals.

With a goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand with two seconds in overtime, the Monsters posted a 1-0 victory Saturday over the Hershey Bears, the Washington Capitals’ top farm team, to wrap up Cleveland’s first hockey title since the Barons won the Calder Cup in 1964.

Before the game, Jared Bednar, the Monsters’ coach, said, “To build the excitement, and have that sense with the community and the team, has been a key from top to bottom.”

As…

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