by Sarah Jamieson || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Lake Erie Monsters are out on tour this year.
No, not a tour like your favorite country singer or rock band make. And not a tour of duty. For the fourth straight year, they are on a tour around Northeast Ohio, aiming to connect with fans, both young and old.
This and every season since joining the AHL in 2007, the players and coaches have participated in the “Tour with the Monsters,” presented by Time Warner Cable and Zeppe’s Pizza. Several times over the course of the season, the Tour takes practice from the usual confines of the team’s facility, Hoover Arena in Strongsville, to various public rinks in local neighborhoods throughout Northeast Ohio.
Head coach David Quinn and assistant Dan Laperriere lead the team through a regular practice that fans are invited to watch. While the team typically practices in the morning, they move their sessions to the evening for the Tour, so it’s more convenient for fans.
The open practice allows fans a unique look into the make-up of a hockey team. For the most part, fans only see the team at games; they see the end result of all the hard work and sweat that goes into putting a successful team on the ice. They do not see the hours upon hours spent at the rink, the drills coaches put their players through, the effort and time spent trying to improve as an individual and as a team. The Tour with the Monsters gives fans the chance to get an inside look at all of that.
This also gives younger fans, particularly all the youth hockey players that line the glass peering in at their ice heroes, an example of how hard work pays off. It’s not all the glitz and glamour of being a professional athlete. It’s not just about game time. It’s about putting in the work to achieve your dreams.
Following the practice session, fans in attendance are invited to actually take the ice with the team and skate, get autographs, take pictures and mingle with their favorite players.
This is when the true impact of the Tour is felt. The faces of the fans, young and old alike, say it all. Their excitement and joy are evident. Look on one side of the ice, and you’ll see a crowd clamoring around the team’s goalie. Look to the other side and you’ll spot a family posing with the captain. And in between you’ll see kids playing with the team’s mascot, parents talking to one of the veterans about teaching their kids to skate and a high school player in his letterman’s jacket asking a rookie what it’s like to make it to the pros.
And therein lies the reason for the Tour with the Monsters. To connect with fans. To be accessible. To make a personal impact.
If one parent’s comment following a recent stop in Elyria, a suburb on the western side of Cleveland, is any indication, the impact is indeed being felt.
“After they were done skating, I saw one of the players walk up to a 3- or 4-year-old boy, who was decked out in Monsters attire, and hand him his stick from practice and say ‘Happy Birthday.’ You should have seen the look on the faces of that family. The mom was almost crying. The best part was when the boy looked at his dad and said, ‘I’m a real hockey player now!’ Way to go Lake Erie Monsters, you are welcome in Elyria any time!”
To the Monsters, reactions like that are the reason for the (hockey) season.