CLEVELAND – Sports, like your favorite amusement park, is full of rollercoasters. Though, for the Cleveland Monsters, the last week was one of the most thrilling yet terrifying rollercoasters one could ever encounter. Despite all of the practicing, film watching, visualization, and conditioning, sometimes things are just out of your control. Yet one more lesson this young Monsters roster is learning the hard way this season.
And this has also been a lesson for me; you’ve noticed the Monday column coming out on a Tuesday. Rollercoaster, indeed.
The Week That Was
If you read the Monday Monster Mash last week, you know I called off the barrage of firefighters to respond to this fire. Well, my finger is hovering above my phone’s “Emergency Call” button. However, it isn’t entirely the players’ or coaches’ fault.
In a two-game week, there was plenty of time for preparation of two back-to-back games against North Division (and standings) rival Laval Rocket. However, I wonder if that long four-day break between a statement bounce-back win over the Charlotte Checkers and their first game against the Rocket was too much. Too much of a break to maintain moments and too little action to hone in on those good game habits that secured a victory against a third-place team in a super-tough Atlantic Division.
On Friday’s thrilling overtime win against Laval was the slow, white-knuckle climb up the rollercoaster lift hill. Full of anxiety and anticipation, somehow, the Monsters found a way to come back twice to tie the game, with the game-winner coming at 4:02 of the extra frame. Josh Dunne was Friday’s hero, notching the primary assist on Joona Luoto’s second game-tying goal and ultimately scoring the game-winner. Jet Greaves looked to be returning to form, stopping 36 saves in the victory, compared to Laval’s Cayden Primeau with 20 saves.
Josh Dunne's face says it all. @monstershockey in OT ✔️ pic.twitter.com/K1754agvfl
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) January 28, 2023
Sunday’s game started with that stomach-churning drop, with the Rocket tallying three straight power-play goals. Cleveland’s main faults on Sunday were their inability to clear the crease to give Greaves room to work (and see) and allowing far too many chances and tallies while on the penalty kill. Despite all of that, I never got the sense that the Monsters ever gave up or threw in the towel. The second period especially was full of jump and grit. I asked head coach Trent Vogelhuber about it on Sunday:
“I liked again I liked our energy. It’s hard to bounce back when they kind of keep going in like that, right? There’s some bad bounces, but I thought we did about as good of a job as you can of trying to stay even keel and keep working. We had really good juice there in the second period, came back to within one, and then, he (Laval head coach Jean-François Houle) called a timeout. Then a couple of quick TV timeouts can kind of kill the momentum. They got a couple of bounces and some point shots off deflections, which is good plays by them, but you have to manage that that part of the game and be able to just stay even keel. We just weren’t able to really regain it like we had it before. I mean, credit to them for kind of digging their heels in and putting a stop to it. But again, I thought we deserved a little better.” – Vogelhuber
This last weekend was quite a jolt to the collective senses of the Monsters. There have been so many games over the past month or so where they looked defeated. Of course, there’s always a spark or two, but not in it like they were on Sunday. Despite putting in such a strong effort, some careless penalties, and bad bounces, the Monsters still competed hard against a Laval squad that’s been on a tear lately.
Also, I partially take back my question about moving Fix-Wolansky back to the faceoff dot on the power play. I think he’s starting to settle in on his new spot and is making it work. Just because he’s in a new seat on the ride doesn’t mean he isn’t going to produce. However, one goal on the power play doesn’t mean I’m fully ready to declare it fixed.
Setting the Pace
One of the largely unsung heroes this past weekend was rookie Roman Ahcan. Ahcan hasn’t seen the scoresheet much this season. What he’s missed in scoring has been made up for in drive, attitude, and team play. In a roster that’s been in flux, to say the very least, he’s one of two players (the other being Owen Sillinger) that’s skated in every game.
Ahcan joined the Monsters after his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin closed. Now with 64 pro games under his belt, Ahcan is under the true test of finding consistency and trust in an ever-evolving roster. He also sees it as an opportunity to improve.
“I mean, it’s, it’s pro hockey. The guys are gonna get called up. Guys are gonna get hurt. That’s the beauty of pro hockey, it just gives them another opportunity for somebody else to step in and improve on what they got. So I think that’s, that’s a big, big part of it: new opportunities for everybody, just the growth that can come from that. The confidence that comes with it too, we have guys that are coming up from the East Coast that are starting to feel more comfortable and guys coming from PTOs getting around the guys. And it’s all about acclimating everyone to get on the same page. So we can now play as a team.” – Ahcan
Ahcan scored his second goal of the season on Sunday against Laval, setting off a frenzy both on the bench and in the stands.
Huge goal for the Monsters a Roman Ahcan cranked a long-distance shot past a surprised Cayden Primeau. The Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is electric right now!
3-1 | 2:42 2nd | #LAVvsCLE pic.twitter.com/13jpS0hH8j
— Deana Weinheimer (@FPHAHL) January 29, 2023
This goal shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the numbers on his stat line do not reflect his play well at all. Ahcan has been a critical contributor in drawing penalties, forcing rushes, and setting up high-danger chances for his linemates. If anything, that goal was more of an “it’s about time he’s rewarded” goal than anything.
Ahcan is a player that will give 100 percent until the final whistle, no matter what the score is. In a league where the “next man up” mentality is preached, you need players with that mindset. Luckily for the Monsters, he’s not the only one.
“No, I think that [mentality] comes from the coaches and it comes from within. This group is pretty relentless. We’ve come back from games where we were down four or five goals before, so we know we have it in the locker room. We believe in that doesn’t matter how many goals we’re down or what period we’re in. We were gonna fight to the end.” – Ahcan
But for now, it’s taking each game as it comes and finding consistency with that attitude, upping the shot volume, and finding the back of the net. As evidenced by his latest tally, getting this team on a rally doesn’t take much.
Next up for Ahcan after this weekend’s games is a few days off to visit friends back in Madison, Wisconsin. After that, it’s time to strap back in and get to work.
The Week to Come
As of Tuesday morning’s practice, goaltender Daniil Tarasov was a full participant. He’s missed the last two games due to an undisclosed injury. Also rejoining practice is forward Ben Copeland. He last skated in a 3-1 loss against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on January 17.
As for games? Well, the Jacks are back as the Cleveland Monsters are bringing back the Cleveland Lumberjacks with a two-game rebrand, specialty memorabilia, and other to-be-announced activities this weekend.
Friday 🎟: https://t.co/lezrb1dVMf
Saturday 🎟: https://t.co/LHAoffg6Ah pic.twitter.com/QghgNJ8WRz
— Cleveland Lumberjacks (@monstershockey) January 30, 2023
Both games will be against the Central Division’s Chicago Wolves. Last season’s Calder Cup winners have been in the pits of despair this season, currently sitting in last place in their division. However, they’ve recently regained the services of one of the top goaltending prospects in Pyotr Kochetkov. Is his steady presence in net enough to send his team back to the winning column? Or will the Monsters find an edge on home ice to secure four very-needed points?
The Monday Monster Mash will be on hiatus next week as I’ll be covering the AHL All-Star Classic in Laval. Stay tuned to FieldPassHockey.com and all our social accounts for wall-to-wall coverage, including interviews, live streams, stories, galleries, and much more!
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!
- PHOTOS: Providence Bruins vs. Charlotte Checkers – 03/26/2023
- Ghost Pirates Survive The Final Battle of Georgia Tilt
- PHOTOS: South Carolina Stingrays vs. Cincinnati Cyclones – 03/31/2023
- PHOTOS: Evansville Thunderbolts vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers – 03/24-26/2023
- Quick Start Fuels Indy to Wheeling Win
- PHOTOS: Jacksonville Icemen vs. Orlando Solar Bears – 03/31/2023
- Bulls Rally Past Stingy Mayhem, Tied For First
- PHOTOS: Trois-Rivières Lions vs. Worcester Railers – 03/29/2023
- PHOTOS: Reading Royals vs. Wheeling Nailers – 03/25-26/2023
- IceHogs Prepare For Three Huge Games This Weekend