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A Monster of a road trip

by Tim Bugaile || AHL On The Beat Archive

lem-wbs_200.jpgRoad trips are a part of hockey. The Lake Erie Monsters, just like every AHL team, play 40 games away from their home rink during the regular season and are required to endure their fair share of bus trips and overnight stays in places nowhere near Cleveland.

But this is something almost unheard of. In a 15-day span, the Monsters will play nine games in six states and one province and travel over 3,500 miles. The Monsters will have 19 days in between home games, enough of a break that workers at The Q have removed the ice for the Monsters late-winter getaway.

The trip began Feb. 7 in Grand Rapids, Mich., and ends Feb. 21 against the Griffins in the only state that touches four of the five Great Lakes. Michigan, which is also the state where Henry Ford began making Ford automobiles, marks the birthplace of Monsters goaltender Jason Bacashihua and forward Bryan Marshall, as both grew up approximately 150 miles east of Grand Rapids in Dearborn Heights (Bacashihua) and Livonia (Marshall). Michigan is also the state where forward Chris Mueller played four years of college hockey for the Michigan State Spartans.

After kicking off their road trip in Michigan, the team headed 321 miles east and across the border to play the Bulldogs in Hamilton, Ontario, on Feb. 8. This province, home to approximately a third of Canada’s population, is also the birthplace of Mike Vernace, Alex Penner, Randy Rowe, Aaron MacKenzie, Chris Durno, Wes O’Neill and Rob Drummond. Aside from producing seven players on Lake Erie’s roster, Ontario is also responsible for roughly 60 percent of all manufactured exports coming out of Canada.

The Monsters left Canada and traveled to the state where the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were signed, Pennsylvania, for a Feb. 11 game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Located two hours north of America’s first capital — Philadelphia — Wikes-Barre is also the birthplace of the Planter’s Peanuts Company and Benjamin Burnley, lead singer of the rock band Breaking Benjamin.

After a quick stop in “Penn’s Woods,” the Monsters traveled just over 200 miles northeast to play a game in Connecticut’s state capital against the Hartford Wolf Pack on Feb. 13. The city is also home to the Hartford Courant, the country’s oldest continuously published newspaper. The Courant, which has been in circulation since 1764, was a publication that George Washington advertised in to lease some of his Mount Vernon property.

Lake Erie will remain in New England after their tilt in Hartford, traveling just over 130 miles north through the home state of head coach Joe Sacco — Massachusetts — to New Hampshire to play the Manchester Monarchs on Valentine’s Day. The game will be the first and last of the regular season for the Monsters in New Hampshire, the state with the motto “Live Free or Die.”

After their two-game stay in New England, the Monsters will travel over 1,300 miles west to play the Iowa Chops. When the Monsters arrive in Iowa, they will land in the state’s capital, Des Moines, to play the Chops on Feb. 16. Des Moines, whose residents consume more potato chips per capita than any metro area in the country, is also the home of the third largest insurance center in the world and the state where the movie “Field of Dreams” was captured.

The Monsters’ next stop: Illinois, the home state of defenseman Nigel Williams, Presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln and author Ernest Hemingway. Lake Erie will play two games in the Midwest state, the first of which is on Feb. 18 in Moline, the home of the John Deere world headquarters, to play the Quad City Flames.

Lake Erie will stay in Illinois, traveling 120 miles northeast to Rockford, the third largest city in the state, to play the Ice Hogs on Feb. 20. Rockford also represents the second-to-last stop for Lake Erie, as the Monsters complete the 15-day road trip the same place it began, in Grand Rapids, to play the Griffins on Feb. 21.

When the Monsters return to Cleveland, they will have ventured over 3,500 miles, played nine games in 15 days and visited two countries, six states and one province. The remainder of the year leaves Lake Erie with just 21 games in the regular season, 14 of which will be played at Quicken Loans Arena.