By Eddie Graveline, Glovedropper.com
On Saturday night, the Fresno Monsters' 2010-11 season officially came to a close. The NAHL team concluded their first season in the league by playing the Wichita Falls Wildcats for the second consecutive night. The Monsters pulled off a dramatic 4-3 shootout win over the Wildcats on Friday night, and fans filed into Selland Arena hoping to catch one more victory before the off season.
The game got off to a rough start. The Wildcats scored twice within a two-and-a-half minute span to carry a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The second period wasn't much better. The Wildcats scored at 8:29 and 17:59 to double their lead before the second intermission. After being outshot in the first period, the Monsters came back and were outshooting the Wildcats after two, but the effort hadn't amounted to anything on the scoreboard.
I was curious to see how the Monsters would approach the final 20 minutes of the season. Scoring wise, they weren't great. The Wildcats got another one before Matthew Coleman finally put one in at 5:22. Lucas Whelan and Mike Cox picked up assists on the play. The Wildcats ended up scoring a couple more before it was over, but the Monsters showed some fight. Literally. There were quite a few scraps late in the third period, including one that almost turned into a line brawl. The Monsters ended up short-handed for seven minutes, but they had proven their point.
After the game, there was a nice video tribute to the senior players who are aging out of junior hockey. Thomas Freeman was probably the most notable, just because he was such a big part of the innaugural season last year. He went from being one of the top scorers in the WSHL last season, to making the NAHL team this year and establishing himself as an off-ice leader, as well as a go-to guy in penalty kill situations.
Willie Hess said goodbye as well. He came to the Monsters after playing at Providence College last year. His incredible speed made him one of the most exciting players to watch all season and he scored some of the best short-handed goals Fresno fans have seen in the past two years.
Johan Bjorklund played his final junior game as well. Like Freeman, the Swedish import player was a natural leader on the team. His personality and work ethic made him a fan favorite and he provided a lot of great moments on the ice.
It's always bittersweet to see players move on. It always seems like the season goes by too fast and the players and gone too quickly, but that's the thing about junior hockey. It's a revolving door and while it's tough to see guys go, there will always be new players to meet and enjoy supporting next season. That's only about 5 months away, so there won't be much time to rest before preparations have to be made.