Being the resident Northeast Ohioan on the Cannon staff, I have taken on the role of providing some coverage of the Columbus Blue Jackets AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters. I am well aware it’ll be tough to follow up the superb Monsters coverage provided by Elaine Shircliff, but I’ll do my best to keep you all up to speed on what’s going on up I-71 once a month.
The Monsters should have a very competitive team this year considering the amount of NHL talent they have on the roster. Lots of familiar faces will be taking the ice at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse this year, including Liam Foudy, Kevin Stenlund, Gavin Bayreuther and Gabriel Carlsson to name a few. Veteran AHL leadership is abundant through the lineup as well which brings me to the first part of our check-in...
Monsters defenseman and new captain, Dillon Simpson, has some BIG (maybe not literally) shoes to fill replacing Nathan Gerbe and Zac Dalpe. Simpson has 3 games of NHL experience on his resume, but has spent the vast majority of his career in the AHL with Edmonton’s minor league team in Bakersfield before coming to Cleveland in 2018. He has been an alternate captain for the last two years prior to assuming the role of captain. Coach Mike Eaves had high praise for Simpson and his hockey IQ, saying Simpson thinks and speaks the game like a coach.
Alternate captain, Justin Scott, is in his sixth season with the Monsters and will undoubtedly break the franchise record for most games played. He is no stranger to playing a leadership role having previously worn a letter with the club. Scott is a heart and soul type of player and his work ethic is top notch, reminiscent of current Blue Jackets captain, Boone Jenner.
Tyler Sikura, the other alternate captain, is in his second season with the Monsters, but has only about 30 games with the team due to the pandemic shortened season. A veteran of the AHL — most recently with Rockford — Sikura has almost 250 games under his belt. He has been a leader almost everywhere he’s been, wearing an A in Rockford in addition to wearing the C at Dartmouth College.
The Cleveland Monsters opened their 15th season last Friday by splitting a two game weekend series with the Syracuse Crunch.
Opening night in Cleveland saw the Monsters honor the late Matiss Kivlenieks prior to the start of the game. His family was in attendance for this one as well and participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
The Monsters quickly established a two goal lead with goals from Tim Berni and Jake Christiansen. Then quickly gave up a pair of goals partly due to some shaky goaltending from Daniil Tarasov (he would struggle all night). The teams traded goals in the second before Syracuse scored late to take a 4-3 lead into the third period. The Crunch would add another pair of goals and cruise to the finish line, allowing Justin Scott to score a meaningless late goal for a 6-4 final score.
Saturday night started to head in the same direction as the previous game. Cleveland jumped out to a 3-0 lead with goals from Justin Scott, Carson Meyer and Yegor Chinakhov.
The Monsters then gave up four unanswered goals, with Crunch forward, Justin Huntington, completing a natural hat trick, followed by another Syracuse goal. Carson Meyer scored a shorthanded goal for his second of the night to force overtime. Liam Foudy scored the OT winner finishing on an odd-man rush. It wasn’t always beautiful, but the Monsters found a way to salvage opening weekend.
The Monsters hit the road and head north of the border to begin a road trip tonight at 7pm when they take on the Belleville Senators.
Players to Watch
Liam Foudy - Foudy was no doubt disappointed to not make the Blue Jackets out of training camp. With the influx of young new talent, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody. Foudy has excelled in the AHL thus far, but hasn’t been able to put it together at the NHL level. He needs to use this year to improve upon the rest of his game to match his elite skating and speed. It’s all but certain we will see Liam Foudy back in Columbus at some point this year.
Daniil Tarasov - Its no secret how highly Tarasov is thought of within the Blue Jackets’ system. He should get the bulk of the start in his first full season in North America, which is very much needed. Tarasov has sky high potential, but needs as much experience as he can get. He had his bright moments in his few starts last year, but still posted a sub .900 save percentage. This year didn’t start any better, as he was shelled, giving up 5 goals on just 21 shots in his only appearance. Tarasov still doesn’t seem comfortable yet, and his positioning and rebound control showed it. Nobody is worried about his development and Monsters fans should just enjoy watching a future NHL star goaltender mature.
Jake Christiansen - The Blue Jackets signed the undrafted defenseman to an entry level contract last March and had many fans scratching their heads. Christiansen is an offensive defenseman, putting up 50 points in 38 games in his final season with his junior club, the Everett Silvertips, In his first season pro, he posted 15 points in just 28 games and has 3 points in the first two games of this season. His overall game is rounding out, as he grows as a player and improves his defensive play. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get a look should the injuries start to mount in the Jackets’ defense corps.
Tyler Angle - Former 7th round pick has done nothing but impress since going pro last season. In the shortened season, Angle was a point-per-game player, notching 24 points (11G, 13A) in 23 games. The 21-year-old has 3 assists in the Monsters’ first two games this year. He will be looked to as a leader on the offense.
Trey Fix-Wolansky - Another former 7th-round pick, TFW could have a big year and get a call-up to the big club. Fix-Wolansky is still recovering from knee surgery, but has been skating and participating in individual drills. According to the original recovery timeline of six months for ACL repair surgery, his return should be right around the corner barring any setbacks. He was an undersized scoring phenom in junior, and has had modest success in his brief professional career with the Monsters, scoring 35 points (16G, 19A) in 52 games. It’ll probably take him some time to get up to speed once he returns, but he should figure into the Monsters’ top six somewhere and pick up where he left off when he was a point-per-game player.