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Going North: Monsters heating up at the right time for playoff push

Things are beginning to look up for our Cleveland Monsters as they enter the final stretch of the season and try to work their way back up the standings to get back into the Calder Cup Playoffs. Nobody can say what the roster for either the Blue Jackets or the Monsters will look like after the trade deadline, but I’d have to imagine Jarmo Kekalainen will keep his AHL club in mind when the time comes considering getting playoff experience for a lot of his young players should be a priority.

Heating Up

A week off for the AHL All-Star festivities seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the Cleveland Monsters. In a week of crucial games, the Monsters came away with wins in all of them. They are currently in the midst of a three-game win streak, beating the team directly beneath them (Belleville Senators) in a weekend back-to-back and then the team they are chasing (Rochester Americans) on Wednesday. The Monsters have improved their record to 20-20-3-2 and are now in sixth place in the AHL’s North Division standings, just two points behind Rochester for the final playoff spot in the division.

The Monsters head out of conference this weekend for three games in three nights, playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday against Grand Rapids and Chicago. Both of those teams are at the bottom of their divisions as well, but are much further from playoff positions than Cleveland. However, Rochester’s schedule is just a bit more brutal as also play 3 in 3 against  division leading Toronto and third place Utica.

Trey Fix-Wolansky and Justin Richards continue to pace the offense, with clutch secondary scoring provided by Joshua Dunne and Cole Fonstad, who is tied for 3rd in GWG’s in the league. David Jiricek and Jake Christiansen are leading the charge on the backend. While the Monsters wait for Daniil Tarasov to heal up from his most recent injury, Jet Greaves and Pavel Cajan continue the man the net for the Monsters and have came up big recently in some low-scoring victories. The hope is that Tarasov heals up and can play a lot of hockey down the stretch and provide a boost to get them over the hump into the postseason.

If all goes according to plan, its quite feasible the Cleveland Monsters exit the weekend in playoff position in the North Division.

Davidson released

You may recall from a previous installment of Going North, that the Monsters signed 31-year-old, NHL/AHL veteran Brandon Davidson to a contract. This was a saavy move by management to bring in some experience on a very young Cleveland blue line. Unfortunately it worked out too well, as Davidson must have caught the eye of a European GM who signed him for the rest of the year. He will play out the season in the SHL for Farjestad BK. Ironically, Davidson had more NHL experience than most of the current Blue Jackets defenseman and will leave a pretty big hole on the Monsters’ top pairing, where he was playing with David Jiricek. He played big minutes and posted 6 points (3G, 3A) in 27 games and was a +6.

Cleveland captain Dillon Simpson may get his chance to move back on defense now that there is an opening. For the last little while he has been filling in at forward with the Monsters so shorthanded. It leaves a hole at forward again, but the Monsters are starting to get healthy for the stretch run with possible reinforcements on the way.

All-Star Jake Christiansen

Sadly for David Jiricek, he had to miss the AHL All-Star game in Laval last week due to illness. The Monsters had another star defenseman to send in his place in Jake Christiansen.  This should have been his second appearance at the event, but last years’ ASG was canceled due to the pandemic.

Christiansen participated in the hardest shot competition and the Pass and Score event during the skills competition where the Eastern Conference prevailed. He also added as assist in a 4-3 loss in the actual All-Star game.

The All-Star Game nod must have lit a fire under Jake, because he came out of the break with a 5 point weekend series helping the Monsters to a pair of back-to-back wins, while being named the AHL’s third star of the night after a four point night on Friday. Jake will be crucial in helping anchor the defense for the playoff push.

Playing Outside

It’s hard to believe that the Outdoor Classic is just a couple weeks away. It crushes my soul that I will not be able to attend thanks to a prior obligation scheduled a year in advance (seriously, what are the odds of that), but it should be a great time. I hope that Ohio really shows up for this to give the NHL a glimpse at what a outdoor game could look like for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I’m sure Pittsburgh Penguins fans will help out filling the stands as well since we all know that fanbase tends to travel well, especially into Ohio.

Ohio State takes on Michigan tomorrow afternoon as well which should be a good one! Check out the Buckeyes take on potential future Blue Jacket, Adam Fantilli!

If you’ve got some time to kill this afternoon, check out this video released by the Monsters yesterday. The first 30 seconds gave me chills, especially hearing the voice of the Browns, Jim Donovan, with the intro.

Let’s go Monsters!