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Cleveland Monsters

Cleveland Monsters

Monday Monster Mash: 01/15/2023

Another tough week in @monstershockey history has come and gone. Despite being last in the @theAHL North Division, it isn’t all doom & gloom. There is still a glimmer of hope in The Land. @fphmonsters shares why in this week’s Monster Mash.

Monday Monster Mash: 01/15/2023

CLEVELAND – Another tough week in Cleveland Monsters history has been filed away. Earning three out of a possible six points on the road, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the American Hockey League affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite the troubles plaguing the Monsters, some glimmers of hope shine upon The Land.

The Week That Was

Cleveland’s six-game, 10-day road trip finally came to a close this week. After a travel schedule that saw them playing games in three states and two Canadian provinces, the Monsters will soon be back in the friendly confines of the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

In the last week of Monsters Hockey, Cleveland gained three points in the standings out of a potential six. First, a 3-2 OT loss against the Utica Comets on the road. Then, the Monsters went to the True North to take on the Belleville Senators. Cleveland came out ahead with a 2-1 regulation victory in a true nail-biter. Their road trip concluded in Laval with a hard 6-2 loss against the Rocket. Darion Hanson made his AHL debut against Laval, making 36 saves.

Hitting the back of the net last week were Robbie Payne (two goals), Jake ChristiansenJosh Dunne (two goals), and Trey Fix-Wolansky.

Hey Now, Jiricek’s an All-Star

Wednesday was a big day for rookie defenseman David Jiricek as he was named to the North Division’s roster for the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Bell in collaboration with Manulife Bank.

The last year has been huge for the 19-year-old out of Klatovy, Czechia. Internationally, Jiricek represented Czechia at the 2021-22 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships. Jiricek also helped Czechia claim the Bronze Medal at the 2021-22 IIHF World Championship.

Then, last summer, he was selected sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

After making his professional North American debut in the AHL, Jiricek has five goals, 15 assists, and a +6 rating. He ranks first for rookie defensemen in goals, fourth in assists, third in points, first in power-play goals, second in power-play assists (behind teammate Samuel Knazko), and first in points per game. Among all rookies, Jiricek is second in power-play assists and is in the top 20 for assists, points, and power-play goals.

Then, at the 2022-23 World Junior Championships, Jiricek helped his home country claim the Silver Medal. He earned ‘Best Defenseman’ honors at the tournament and was named to the post-tournament media All-Star Team.

All of that led up to Jiricek being named as Cleveland’s lone entry to the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic; the first such event since 2020.

The AHL All-Star Classic is set for February 5-6 at Place Bell in Laval, QC.

Reinforcements Inbound

Could it be true? Are reinforcements finally on the horizon for the struggling Cleveland Monsters? If recent trends hold true, an infusion of talent and a return to a roster that more closely resembles the start of the season is close at hand.

The biggest name coming back this past week is captain Dillon Simpson. The multi-talented veteran missed the previous 29 games due to injury. During the first intermission in Laval, Simpson shared more about his injury with Monsters play-by-play announcer Tony Brown:

“It was an unfortunate play, falling down and the D-man trying to get up. He stepped on my wrist and severed the tendon. I had to get it surgically repaired, so it’s been a long, long road of slowly, every week trying to get mobility back. It’s now feeling well enough to play.” – Simpson

It cannot be understated how much this Monsters squad missed Simpson. With AHL teams, which tend to be heavy on rookies and other young roster members, veterans are highly valued and relied upon. Simpson is relied upon quite heavily, perhaps more so than others, with his ability to slot in at forward just as much as his natural defensive position. For Simpson, he was more than ready to get back in the lineup.

“It’s been a long road, but there’s nothing but excitement from me. It’s my first game back, so I’m trying to keep it simple and help any way I can.” – Simpson

After a two-day loan to the Blue Jackets, Fix-Wolansky is also back with the club. There is a noticeable difference when Fix-Wolansky is out of the lineup, with the high-octane scorer and all-heart forward playing a pivotal role in the top six.

We need to take a second to acknowledge the play of Patrick Grasso, who is on a Professional Tryout Contract. While he hasn’t hit the official scoresheet, he’s been a noticeable addition to the squad, skating on the third line this past Saturday. Speeding around the ice, he was attempting to finish quite a few chances and looked right at home along with linemates Roman Ahcan and Erik Bradford. What he lacks in size (5′ 7″ and 170 pounds), he, like Fix-Wolansky, makes up for in speed and tenacity.

Jiricek is also inching closer to his return. Initially, Jiricek returned to the club from his silver medal run with Czechia at the World Juniors on January 6. However, due to illness, he’s been unavailable since playing one game on January 11. Even though he’s only 19 years old, Jiricek’s talent and innate hockey prowess have him looking well-adjusted to the North American game. Having him back will help solidify the Monsters’ back end.

Two more notable returning players are defenseman Marcus Bjork & goaltender Jet Greaves. While the pair were technically on the roster before puck drop in Laval on Saturday, they physically could not join the team due to what it called “logistics issues.” Unless something bizarre happens, they should be available for the Monsters moving forward.

As of game time on January 14, the injury and scratch report included:

Though, wins could still be difficult to come by until the Columbus Blue Jackets get healthy and send down the last heavy offensive hitters in Kirill Marchenko and Emil Bemstrom.

The Week to Come

The Monsters are back home for a short two-game home stand against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. After a quick rest, the team will pack up for a two-game series against the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday.

Maybe it is for the best that Cleveland gets out of the North Division for a little bit. Sitting in last place in the division, losing to the teams above them will only open up a gap in the standings. While plenty of hockey is left, the Monsters need to scrape every last point they can.

Now, the Phantoms and Checkers won’t be easy games. Lehigh Valley is currently fifth in the Atlantic Division (16-14-3-2, 37 points), while Charlotte has been hot lately, sitting third in the Atlantic (19-14-2-2, 42 points). Cleveland is 1-1-0-0 this season against the Phantoms, both on the road. Now, the venue flips, with Cleveland playing host. For Charlotte, they have a 2-0-0-0 tally against Cleveland, finding victory inside the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Looking at this upcoming four-game slate this week, I’m not filled with much confidence. However, Simpson and, hopefully, Jiricek back in the lineup could slow the bleed of goals allowed. If Gaunce or Richards return this week, they could be a massive boost of offensive firepower.

Ultimately, this is a huge gut-check time for the Monsters. Will they be able to rise to the occasion? We’ll take a look next Monday.

 

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 2023 season!

    Deana Weinheimer is a Managing Editor, podcast host, and covers the American Hockey League for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with her on Twitter @FPHAHL.

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