When you think of hockey Canada comes to mind.
Yet while northeast Ohio is all about football, that sport is quickly becoming one of the area's top attractions.
From the rinks in Lakewood and Parma, where kids are lacing up the skates as early as five years old, to state high school powerhouse St. Edward, the sport has continued to grow in popularity, and it’s not only the boys. There are many who play the sport now dotting top tier collegiate rosters, and even the women are on board, with two Olympians hailing from the area.
While there has always been a strong interest in the area, one of the big reasons as of late, is the fact Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert, after buying the Cavaliers, decided to bring minor league hockey back to town with the Lake Erie Monsters.
In 2007, he bought the Utah Grizzlies of the American Hockey League, and renamed them the Lake Erie Monsters.
“We believe pro hockey can have a very successful future in downtown Cleveland, especially as part of the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena family," said Gilbert at the time. "We've got a great deal of confidence in the market, and we'll approach this the same way we approach all of our business - give it the support it needs, build it the right way and make it something really fun that people want to be a part of.”
They’ve done exactly that since first hitting the ice in 2008.
Fun may be an understatement, as there are various activites throughout the arena for fans from pictures, to sign making. Then there are the on ice activities for fans lucky enough to be picked. The best thing, other than the hockey, is the entertainment during breaks. From the Mullet brothers, to cheerleaders, it's non stop action.
The Monster’s season ended on Saturday, when a loss to a Rochester team that was loaded with players who played most of the season in the NHL with Buffalo, killed their chances for a post-season berth.
But it was a memorable one, which bodes well for bringing back the glory days when the Cleveland Barons won numerous Calder Cups in the near future. The Monsters closed the regular season with a record of 37-29-3-7.
“It's too bad, because I thought we could have done some damage in the playoffs," Monsters Coach David Quinn said after the loss.
Playoffs or not, there is more to the Monsters than just its play on the ice. In an effort to breathe life into the area, they have made a strong commitment to both youth and high school hockey programs.
One program designed specifically for youths, is called the Mega Monsters. What this does is give al youth programs the opportunity to experience hockey on a professional level. Not only does it provide role models for kids, but of more importance is the fact it helps with many youths development on and off the ice.
Another example of how the Monsters have given back to the community is a program designed to benefit local schools. The Monsters and Glidden® Paint teamed up to make schools in our community more colorful. The “Colorful Community Contest” allows schools in Northeast Ohio to apply for the opportunity to have a classroom(s), hallway(s) or other space(s) repainted by the experts at Glidden® Paint.
Players also throughout the season tour area rinks, and give fans not only a chance to watch the team practice, but also get on the ice with the players for photos and autographs.
Yes, the season may be over, but the impact the Monsters have had on the area is tremendous, and just another example of how Cleveland’s revitalizing.