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Going North: Monsters showing signs of life with their backs against the wall

Although it may be a bit too late, the Cleveland Monsters are not going down without a fight

AHL: MAR 13 Rockford IceHogs at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It seems like most of the Monsters roundups this year have been kind of doom and gloom. This one is more or less similar, but with just a hint of optimism sprinkled in.

First, the bad news: The Cleveland Monsters still sit at the bottom of their division, outside of the (expanded) playoff picture looking in. With just 18 games remaining, its looking a bit bleak for the Monsters with their 22-24-8-4 record. They are eight points behind the Syracuse Crunch for the fifth and final playoff spot in the division. Cleveland is ten points behind the Rochester Americans for the fourth spot with a game in hand. However, the Belleville Senators pose a big threat as well, being directly above the monsters in the standings with three more points and four games in hand on both the Monsters and the Crunch. They could very easily snag one of the remaining playoff spots.

As mentioned, the AHL playoff format is expanded and set up differently this year. All but the bottom two teams in each of the AHL’s four divisions will qualify for the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. Being in the North Division, with only seven teams compared to the eight or nine teams of the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions, there are less playoff spots up for grabs. The North and Central divisions will be sending five teams each to the playoffs versus the six and seven of the Atlantic and Pacific.

The good news: The Monsters have shown some improved play and have been showing some signs of life in the last few weeks. They also have an opportunity to narrow the gap tonight when they take on the Syracuse Crunch. Even though they lost their last two games to Rochester, only picking up a single point in the process, they will have four more cracks at the Amerks to also make up some ground.

It is definitely a long shot, but the Monsters will have to keep playing strong hockey until their playoff chances reach 0%. In their last ten games, the Monsters have put together a 5-3-2-0 run to keep themselves on life support.

A New #1

Speaking of that recent run of strong play, a big part of that has been a young goaltender getting his first real increase in workload: Jet Greaves.

Way back before the season in a training camp article, I mentioned Greaves and pretty much left it at “he’s got a cool name.” While I still don’t see a future for him with the Blue Jackets, he has proven himself much more than just an A+ hockey name. Greaves had began the season in the ECHL as he was fifth on the depth chart behind both Tarasov and Berube in Cleveland. With Tarasov’s injury and Berube bouncing back and forth up and down I-71, Greaves has gotten a healthy dose of playing time. In 22 appearances this season, he’s put together a 10-7-2 record along with a .910 save percentage, by far the best numbers of any goalie that has suited up for Cleveland this year.

Last month, Greaves was rewarded with a three-year entry level contract, partly for his play and partly out of necessity. Greaves needed to be under a two-way contract in order to allow him to be called up to the NHL to sit on the bench while both Korpisalo and Merzlikins were hurt. It looks like Jet Greaves will be in the fold now, at least in the near future. Good luck to him, and I’ll surely be keeping a close eye on him with the Monsters.

Keepin’ it Sweezey

Speaking of two-way deals, you may have noticed another one that caught everyone by surprise. 26-year-old defenseman, Billy Sweezey, was signed to a two-way contract beginning next season. Sweezey (also a great name) was playing for the Monsters on an AHL-only deal, and must have impressed management so much that they are willing to potentially give him a look next year with the big club. I knew very little about this player aside from the fact that he is a big, physical, right handed, stay at home defenseman. This year he has posted 4/7/11 with 72 penalty minutes, as well as being an impressive +7 in 52 games played.

I was very curious about Sweezey so I checked in with the Cannon’s former Monsters writer, Elaine Shircliff, to get her thoughts on the player. She commented on how much Sweezey has grown and improved from the beginning of this year. His physical play early in the season was on the reckless side. According to Elaine, “He’d hit anything that moved. Now his hits have meaning and create plays. Plus he knows how to score when needed.” It’s good to hear that he is developing the offensive part of his game.

He’s a very smart player (he played college hockey at Yale), and he is well-liked in the room. At 26, he may seem old and thus not have much of an NHL future, but Sweezey just made his AHL debut last year after playing 4 years at Yale. He graduated late due to spending a year playing in the USHL prior to attending college. With the Blue Jackets defense needing all the help it can get — Sweezey’s skillset in particular — its not farfetched to imagine him suiting up for the Jackets at some point next year.

Monsters on TV

If Cleveland is too far to drive to come watch a last place team in person, there will be one final opportunity to catch the Cleveland Monsters on tv. The Monsters’ game against the Rochester Americans will be shown on Bally Sports Great Lakes at 7pm on Friday, April 1st. Monsters’ play-by-play announcer Tony Brown is great at his job and most likely has a future in the NHL.

This call is legendary.