Going North: Monsters mark franchise milestone with latest win
Cleveland still in playoff position a quarter of the way through the year
It has been an up and down month for the Cleveland Monsters since we last checked in. In their last ten games, the Monsters have put together a 4-3-1-2 stretch, banking 11 points in the process, which was good enough to maintain their third place standing in the North Division. Last week the Monsters did gain a bit of ground on the Rochester Americans, who sit directly above them, by taking 3 of 4 points in the weekend series. They now sit just one point behind them with a game in hand, and are only 5 points out of first place with two less games than Toronto. There is still a lot of season left to be played, but unlike their parent club, playoffs and even the division title are within reach for the Monsters.
They are currently in the middle of a six day break between games before they enter a rigorous stretch of 5 games in 7 days. Cleveland has a chance to really do some damage and stash some points with a pair of back-to-backs against basement dwelling Laval and Utica, who both sit at the bottom of the division. If the Monsters intend to make their return to the Calder Cup playoffs this year, these are crucial points they must put in the bank. They currently sport an 11-8-2-1 record, which at face value doesn’t seem all that impressive, but considering all of the roster turnover already, just treading water and staying competitive is a win in itself.
The Cleveland Monsters won their 500th game as an organization on Sunday, defeating the Hershey bears in dramatic fashion. It is only fitting such a milestone was marked in a momentous way. Cleveland rallied from down 5-1 to a 6-5 win via the shootout against the league-leading Bears.
Just two games after having their doors blown off by Wilkes-Barre, 8-1, it was great to see the resiliency by the Monsters to claw their way back in this one. Joshua Dunne was the hero, scoring a pair of goals in regulation and notching the shootout winner. Trey Fix-Wolansky had a pair of assists and a shootout goal as well. David Jiricek and Samuel Knazko each put up two points in the win. Hopefully the Monsters can use this game to finally get some momentum going and string together some wins and improve their place in a tight division and start the journey towards 1000 franchise wins.
It’s been quite the give and take relationship between Cleveland and Columbus this year. I’m pretty sure the Blue Jackets are going for the record when it comes to the number of defenseman used in a single season, so it makes sense the Monsters have had to really test out their depth, as well as make an in-season signing of a veteran. The Monsters brought in NHL/AHL vet, Brandon Manning to help fill some of the void on the backend. With it looking like Jake Christiansen, Marcus Bjork, Tim Berni, and Gavin Bayreuther will be sticking in the NHL for a while, a move had to be made.
Getting a player with lots of experience — including NHL experience — will be huge for the young guys like Jiricek and Knazko. Jiricek has been playing great hockey and is adapting to the North American game quickly, amassing 13 points in 15 games. He is also the only regular on defense who has a positive +/-, with a +3. With all of the struggles and injuries on the Jackets’ blue line, they are doing right by their prized prospect, letting him develop in a healthier situation in Cleveland. He just might be the best player in the league under 21 according to an advanced stat I just learned of: Win Shares. Sounds good to me!
📊🏒 Top players U21 years old in AHL for Win Shares pic.twitter.com/TIxHP6eUX9— Thibaud Chatel (@Thibaud_Chatel) December 13, 2022
Columbus 1st round pick, defenseman David Jiricek with 1 goal + 1 assist and 5 SOG’s today. He now has 13 points in 15 games with Cleveland (AHL). @DavidJiricek @monstershockey @BlueJacketsNHL @ehshockey @OctagonHockey pic.twitter.com/3nLPFFDH7U— Allan Walsh (@walsha) December 12, 2022
On offense, the Monsters continue to be led by Trey Fix-Wolansky and Emil Bemstrom. Both are playing at over a point-per-game pace still, with TFW second in the league (minimum 15 games played) in pt/g, averaging almost 1.5 points per game. Bemstrom isn’t far behind at 1.3 points per game. As mentioned earlier, Joshua Dunne has been showing signs of life after a very slow start which is absolutely crucial for the Monsters to have success this year. After registering a single point in the first eleven games of the year, Dunne has caught fire lately, putting up ten points (4G,6A) in his last eleven. Looks like he has seen many of his teammates get a call-up and would like one of his own. He was even recognized for his heroic efforts in the teams’ 500th win with the AHL’s First Star of the Night.
Sunday’s Three Stars of the Night ⤵️— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) December 12, 2022
⭐️ Josh Dunne (@monstershockey)
⭐️⭐️ Aaron Dell (@sjbarracuda)
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Connor McMichael (@TheHersheyBears) pic.twitter.com/sCAJAP7B0T
Hopefully in the next installment of Going North, I’ll be able to write about how the Monsters took advantage of a favorable stretch of schedule, and have firmly entrenched themselves at the top of the division to get ready for a playoff push.
Let’s Go Monsters!