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2021-22 Cleveland Monsters Season Preview

The drills are being run. Coaches are taking their final notes. These are bonafide signals that it’s almost hockey time in Cleveland

2021-22 Cleveland Monsters Season Preview

CLEVELAND – The drills are being run. Coaches are taking their final notes. Players are making their last impression leading up to opening night. These are bonafide signals that it’s almost hockey time in Cleveland, once again.

Before the puck drops, let’s both review and preview the Cleveland Monsters up to this point.

Last Season in Review

Record & Playoff Appearance: During the abbreviated 2020-21 season, the Cleveland Monsters went 16-10-1-2 while playing in the Central Division. Of course, due to COVID-19, there were no playoffs for the Central Division or most of the league, in fact. The Pacific Division teams were the only ones to participate in post-season play.

Season Summary: A major storyline during the brief 29-game season was the emergence of rookies Tyler Angle and Carson Meyer. Angle led the team in scoring, while Meyer finished in third place. When they were on the ice, you always had to pay special attention to them as they would be all over the offensive zone trying to score.

There were many questions heading into last season about how the Monsters would fare with a rookie-heavy squad to start the season.

Fortunately, most of those players stepped up to the occasion and thrived under the leadership of head coach Mike Eaves. Veterans Tyler Sikura and Dillon Simpson also shared the brunt of the scoring work while providing some stability on the forward and defensive lines, respectively. Well, Simpson also pitched in at forward as the season wore on and became the backbone of the squad.

For the most part, the Monsters had their way with the Central Division, only finding consistent difficulty when facing the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Stats:
Angle led the Monsters in scoring, posting 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists) while playing just 23 games. This was good enough for just over a point per game for the season.

Cleveland scored 101 goals last season over the course of 29 games, which equals out to 3.48 goals per game. This ranked them 16th in the league. On the flip side, Cleveland allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the league with 86.

The Monsters’ power play was outstanding, finishing second with a 26.9% conversion rate. That was just .02% back of the league-leading Hartford Wolf Pack. Conversely, the penalty kill was ranked 15th, killing off 81.6% of penalties. This looks to be a potential point of focus for the Monsters this coming season.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions:

Looking at the Monsters’ roster, it’s hard to find many additions to the team. A large portion of last year’s roster is returning this season, making the openings for newcomers limited. However, there are some names you should keep an eye on.

Jean-Francois Berube is making his return to the Monsters’ crease after being away for three seasons. Since he last suited up for Cleveland in 2018-19, he’s played a total of 35 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Hartford Wolf Pack, and Ontario Reign.

While his numbers aren’t overly impressive, he does provide a good veteran option for a team heavy in young goaltending talent. Actually, his stats are pretty comparable to a veteran goaltender for the Monsters that has moved on to his post-playing hockey career—more on him in a few minutes.

Ohio-born players seem to be a favorite target of the Blue Jackets and Monsters camps over the last few years. One of the latest additions to this list is Dublin, OH native Cole Cassels. His father, Andrew Cassels, had a 16-year career in the NHL, playing on seven separate teams, including Columbus. The younger Cassels has not made an NHL debut but brings six years of experience in the AHL to the Monsters.

As a center, his production leaves a lot to be desired. However, his physical play, defensive skills, and willingness to block shots will fit in well with the identity carved out in the Blue Jackets/Monsters playbook.

On defense, look out for Tim Berni.

Like Cassels, he isn’t known for his scoring. However, he excels in one-on-one battles and holds steady on the blue line, limiting or slowing down zone entries. He more than makes up for what he lacks in scoring with speed and the ability to make plays.

Key Losses:

The well-publicized NHL taxi squad for the 2020-21 season perhaps was a blessing in disguise for the Monsters. This forced their rookies to step up while allowing other veterans the opportunity to step into more prominent roles- both on and off the ice.

The biggest casualty to both the taxi squad and free agency is forward and former captain Zac Dalpe. Dalpe played just five games in Cleveland this past season but managed to tally four points in that time span. For the rest of the season, he was on the sidelines in Columbus.

So, what will the Monsters lose without his presence? Leadership. True love and passion for the sport. Grit. Scoring. Dalpe is a consistent player, one of the guys you can count on every game. The Monsters will miss his presence around the locker room and on the ice. But, in our mind, the Florida Panthers organization lucked out on their side of things as they landed him on a two-year, two-way contract in free agency.

The other two key losses come in net. First up is long-time Monsters goaltender and defacto goaltending coach Brad Thiessen. After a six-year stint with the Monsters during a 12-year career, Thiessen has hung up the pads and moved into coaching. On June 16th, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that he was named their new goaltending development coach.

Luckily, the young goaltenders in Cleveland can still rely on his coaching and experience to help them develop. But, unfortunately, they won’t have their long-standing backup to the backup waiting in the wings for when the inevitable injury and callup happen.

Of course, we could not talk about key offseason losses without mentioning goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks. Kivlenieks’ untimely and tragic passing at just 24 leaves just as large of a hole in the organization’s hearts as it does in the crease.

2021-22 Schedule Breakdown

After reuniting with their old Central Division foes for one sweet but abbreviated season, the Cleveland Monsters find themselves back in the AHL’s North Division. There, they will see regular matchups against the Belleville Senators, Laval Rocket, Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch, Toronto Marlies, and Utica Comets.

The Monsters will open their season at home on Friday night against the Crunch, who they have struggled against mightily in past seasons.

Here are some other dates you might want to circle on your calendar:

  • Oct. 22–24: This will be the first trip back into Canada, and the first of three three-in-three game stretches for the Monsters. The first two are on the road on back-to-back weekends. First is two games in Bellville, followed by a game in Toronto. The following weekend is another three-in-three with one game in Syracuse followed by two in Hershey.
  • Nov. 5: It is just the third home game, but it is the first time a Canadian hockey team will be back in Cleveland since the border closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Dec. 16–27 and Jan. 28–Feb. 5: These are the Monster’s longest homestands of the season at five games each. The players should be well-rested but will face high-quality opponents.
  • Dec. 29–Jan. 15: At eight games, this is the Monsters’ longest road trip. During this trip, they will face opponents in four states.
  • Feb. 3–5: The only home three-in-three sees the Marlies and Hershey Bears come to town just before the All-Star Break, hosted by the Rocket.

The Monsters are scheduled to play a total of 76 games this season against a slate of 14 opponents:

  • Belleville Senators, Charlotte Checkers, Chicago Wolves, Hershey Bears, Laval Rocket, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – four games
  • Toronto Marlies – six games
  • Grand Rapids Griffins, Syracuse Crunch, Utica Comets – eight games
  • Rochester Americans – 10 games

Top Storylines For 2021-22

Goaltending

The biggest storyline of the year, no doubt, will be the battle of the goalies. The Columbus Blue Jackets organization is packed with them. Columbus will go with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins to start the season. Meanwhile, the Monsters have the following options for goalies: Berube, Daniil Tarasov, Jet Greaves, and Cam Johnson.

The Monsters will more than likely only have two goalies on their roster. So, who gets the spots, and who is the “number one starter?” One thing to note is that Johnson did not participate in the Blue Jackets’ training camp.

If Johnson didn’t meet their fitness standards, will he meet Cleveland’s? It’s just one more question that needs to be answered with opening night looming later this week. Competition will be tight since it is such a loaded position, so it is worth watching how the position battle plays out the whole year. Not to mention, there is still plenty of speculation floating around Korpisalo and if he will be traded or not.

Now, we should not that Greaves has been assigned to the ECHL affiliate Kalamazoo Wings as of Oct. 10. So, the battle for opening weekend is between Berube, Tarasov, and Johnson.

How the Roster Rotates

When you are a minor-league affiliate, there is no doubt that your roster will change quite frequently. However, with the Blue Jackets being in the middle of a rebuild, it’s possible that there will be a lot more of the up and down this year. Nevertheless, Cleveland’s roster is set to have some outstanding talent on it like Josh Dunne, Jake Christiansen, Gavin Bayreuther, Sikura, and Angle, to name a few. Those guys, plus several others, will possibly see expanded ice time in Columbus this year.

Can Meyer and Angle Repeat the Success of Their Rookie Year?

These two proved to be a dynamic duo for Cleveland last season. As a rookie, Angle led the team in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played, averaging just over a point per game. Meyer was third on the teaming in scoring with nine goals and 11 assists in 26 games.

Will their sophomore season be as productive as their first? Now that they have both signed entry-level contracts with the Blue Jackets, they will have more expectations and eyes bearing down on them. Only time will tell how they respond.

Prediction Sure to Go Right

While still finding success, the Monsters will not find themselves in the top two of the division like last season. We still expect them to contend and will absolutely make the playoffs, especially with the new expanded format in place for this season.

Why? Well, the Monsters don’t have the best track record against the North. Looking at the last five seasons, here is how the Monsters fared against their fellow North Division teams:

  • Belleville: 6-6-0-0 (4-2-0-0 at home)
  • Laval: 7-8-0-1 (2-6-0-0 at home)
  • Rochester: 9-8-3-1 (2-5-2-1 at home)
  • Syracuse: 2-6-0-0 (1-3-0-0 at home)
  • Toronto: 8-2-3-1 (4-0-2-0 at home)
  • Utica: 2-4-1-0 (1-3-0-0 at home)

Combined, that is 34-34-7-3 (14-19-4-1 at home). In total, 40 of the 76 games on their schedule are against the North. If they can go .500 in that stretch and pick up some much-needed wins against their other opponents, they should have a respectful finish in the standings.

Luckily, the teams that the Monsters have a winning record against are two of the top four teams they face this season in the number of games played (Toronto and Rochester).

Prediction Sure to Go Wrong

Angle will not finish in the top five for scoring. While we believe this is a prediction sure to go wrong, it could possibly come true. Why? Well, we expect Angle to potentially spend a lot of time up in Columbus during this upcoming season. If that is the case, he could struggle to find his consistent stride with the Monsters.

Fan Vote

How Will the Cleveland Monsters Do This Season?

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Deana Weinheimer covers the Cleveland Monsters for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with her on Twitter @FPHMonsters.

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