CLEVELAND- This is it. Opening day. Later today, the Cleveland Monsters will face the Syracuse Crunch at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. For head coach Mike Eaves and his newly appointed leadership group of captain Dillon Simpson and alternate captains Justin Scott and Tyler Sikura,
On Wednesday, the media was able to speak with the group over Zoom. The energy was palpable, knowing that the season was so close.
Head Coach Mikes Eaves
The start of the preseason wasn’t the smoothest for Monsters head coach Eaves. Just about a month ago, he was set to coach the annual NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City. Unfortunately, he was unable due to a shoulder injury.
There were mixed reports that Eaves may have been undergoing surgery. At Wednesday’s media event, Eaves confirmed he does need surgery, but it hasn’t happened yet. However, he joked that we would all know when it happened.
One headline coming into the season is how, in a lot of aspects, things appear to be going back to normal or a “new normal,” not just in the world as a whole, but especially in the sports world. Coach Eaves agrees:
“Even coming back to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, things appeared to be more normal. It has been great to see the Major League Baseball playoffs on television with full stands. The fans make such a difference”.
Eaves did say that the COVID-shortened was extremely challenging.
“(It was the) ultimate test, and it really taught the team to control what they can control and let everything else fall into place. At one point, we were supposed to travel to Chicago, but we were going to have to use one of their goalies. Then we had another positive and couldn’t go”.
Just a couple of days ago, the Monsters named their leadership for this year. For Eaves, leadership is key for bridging the gap between players and coaches.
“One thing I have learned over the 35 years I’ve been coaching, is the importance of leadership. The coaches are only with the players 10% of the time, so it’s important that the leadership is beating to the same drum as the coaches.”
Eaves continued on to praise new team captain Simpson on his high hockey sense and IQ, saying he speaks like a coach.
So, it seemed perfect that the next person up on the call was Simpson.
Captain Dillon Simpson
With Simpson getting this season’s “C,” he joins an elite group of Monsters to get the captain role, Ryan Craig, Nathan Gerbe, and Zac Dalpe, to name a few.
“Yeah, it is a big honor. I was fortunate to play with two of those guys. You mentioned learning from them and carrying on the reins they started, it is a great feeling but we have a great group of guys in that dressing room, that makes my life pretty easy. We have so many leaders and so many guys that play the right way.”
Of course, Simpson was asked about the compliment from Eaves about him speaking like a coach.
“I have a great back and forth with Eaves… I might not be the fastest or most skilled, but I am always thinking. But I also try to be a guy in the locker where if a guy a question I can answer them or give them sort of an answer.”
When Simpson was asked about his relationship with Coach Eaves away from the public eye, he had nothing but good things to say.
“On a personal level, he is one of the best I ever dealt with. Player to player, he takes guys aside, he’s great to work with, and easy to talk to. If you have questions or you mess up he’s always there to have his players’ back. I think it is good especially with the young guys, rookies coming into this league. Sometimes it is an eye-opener, sometimes it starts a little rougher. He’s a guy who is always chirping the positive into guys’ ears, always has time to talk to them and work with them.
Before ending, he made sure to praise his alternate captains Sikura and Scott.
“They’re great guys. I became friends with them quickly- as soon I got here with Scotty, and then when Sikura got here. They are great pros, and always have a good attitude. They bring out the best in other players. With those two wearing the “A” we’re set for a fun year.”
Alternate Captain Justin Scott
Scott is no stranger to Cleveland as he has been with the Monsters now for six seasons. In that time, he’s played hundreds of games and is now just four games short of setting the Monsters franchise record for games played. When Scott was asked what it’ll mean to him, he said,
” It is going to be an honor, this team, playing in Cleveland. I’ve said this a couple of times but it is nothing I take for granted. It’ll be interesting, every year you come back different, you get a different feel for the team, new group, Every year in the AHL you have guys coming in and out. I take pride in that being every day ready to go. It’ll be cool and maybe I will take a couple of minutes to look back on years 1-6. It’ll be awesome”
Scott was also asked about his legacy in Cleveland.
“It is an honor. I loved Cleveland since I got here. I think it is the best market in the American Hockey League. The city is great and it is going to be great seeing the fans again this season. I definitely don’t take for granted playing here. You know even some of the new guys coming in, were kind of a little shocked with the setup we have here in Cleveland. It is amazing, I love it here and it is fun being a part of this franchise. It seems like we always have a good team and are competitive.
Having served as an alternate captain before, Scott said that being named to the role again this year is an honor and not something he takes for granted.
He also had nothing but good things to say about Coach Eaves. When asked about the big age gap between the coach and the youngest players, he said:
“I think that Coach Eaves is a very personal person. I think he is able to adapt to the time. I play with guys that he’s coached at school and I’ve played with Eaves now for three years. He’s a very detailed oriented coach, and he also has a natural act of caring for all the players. It is nice for the younger players or those from coming overseas, just to know that the coach is rooting for everyone. He is a very good person”
Alternate Captain Tyler Sikura
Sikura is fairly new to the Cleveland Monsters, only having been with the team for one season. Unfortunately, that season only lasted 29 games, thanks to a delayed start due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he did play in all 29 of those games.
With that short tenure so far, Sikura was asked was what it meant to get a leadership role right off the bat.
“It is a tremendous honor. It is something that I am going through the trials and tribulations of pro hockey. You don’t neccesarily think being a call-up guy or going back and forth that you’re going to be someone who is established. You’re just living day-by-day trying to stick around. To come in here and feel so much respect from the staff and the players, it is such an honor and something I don’t take for granted.”
Cleveland has a large part of the roster still intact from last season. However, the biggest switch is their move from the Central Division back to the North Division.
He was asked what kind of an advantage he felt the team has with the high return rate of players as they navigate the return to the North and see some teams they haven’t faced in well over a year.
“It is a tremendous advantage, especially in this league. I am looking at our roster and I am not seeing very many weak spots at all. Goaltenders out, we have depth at every position. We have some top guys, and we have some veteran leadership. It just makes it easy for the guys that have been around like Simpson and Scott who bring it every single day. Everyone can kind of follow those guys. I think we’re going to have a really good squad and I am excited to get going.
The Monsters take to the ice tonight at 7:00 p.m. when they face the Syracuse Crunch at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. For an in-depth preview of the season, be sure to check out our 2021-21 Cleveland Monsters season preview.
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