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A Season of Firsts: My First Season Covering the Monsters

The Sin Bin’s Deana Weinheimer pens an essay reflecting on her first year of covering the Cleveland Monsters:

A Season of Firsts: My First Season Covering the Monsters

CLEVELAND – This past American Hockey League season was full of firsts for me — even though it was cut way too short. It almost seemed destined that such a tumultuous season for the Cleveland Monsters would end like it did: zero closure. No chance to say goodbye to our game day friends. Theme games were left uncelebrated. Plus, there was no way to see how the Monsters would fare once the long list of call-ups to the Columbus Blue Jackets started returning.

A Season of Firsts: My First Season Covering the Monsters

My first – well, first – was that the 2019-20 season was my first as a member of Team Sin Bin. To say that this was a massive learning experience gives it zero credit. 
It is through Team Sin Bin that I rekindled my love of sports journalism. This team of talented and passionate writers and editors encouraged and supported me every step of the way. They helped me out and gave me valuable guidance, no matter how silly the question or how many times the dreaded writer’s block kicked in.
Team Sin Bin is, beyond any doubt, a passionate group of people that sincerely loves what they do. The feeling is super easy to catch working alongside them.
As a sports beat reporter, getting laser-focused on your team is all too easy. My fellow writers helped me learn about all the other teams in the AHL and gave me great insight into each team’s players, coaches, and storylines.

Get Those Credentials

This was also the first time I ever was a credentialed sports media journalist. That was a moment of pride and excitement for me. Yes, I’ve been credentialed for other news events, but never a sporting event! 
Being credentialed for the Monsters was even more special for me personally. As you may (or may not know), I live in Columbus. My husband and I were season ticket holders for the Jackets for five seasons. 
Thanks to being able to attend development camps, training camps, and call-ups, I’ve watched several of the Monsters develop for a few years now. Getting the chance to interview them and watch them grow on a new level was so exciting!
Though, entering the post-game scrum seemed daunting. To be honest, I had never conducted a professional sports interview before. My years in news radio journalism helped, but this was all new for me. There is an enormous difference in interviewing high school athletes versus those in the AHL.
Luckily, the Monsters staff, the other beat reporters, the coaching staff, and players made it incredibly easy. They were so kind and gave incredible and insightful interviews.

Learn and Grow Together

Head Coach Mike Eaves is one of the best interviews I’ve ever conducted. He’s a very open book, and his love for the game came through in every single post-game scrum. Even though I started the season with a bunch of nerves, he was always patient with me and provided well-articulated answers for each question.

Cleveland Monsters Head Coach Mike Eaves speaks with Derek Barach and Ryan MacInnis before facing the Chicago Wolves on November 21, 2019. Photo Credit: John Saraya / Cleveland Monsters

From the season opener, it was apparent that Eaves cared as much for each player as a human as he did the success of the team and organization.
Following a 5-0 win over the Rockford IceHogs on October 26, 2019, Eaves elaborated on that thought.

“Part of our job is to develop young people… Their goal is to play with the Blue Jackets. It is part of their growth to be here and learn.”

Following a slew of injuries and call-ups, the Monsters were plugging holes with an increasing number of Professional Tryout Contracts. For Eaves, they were essential members of the team, and he showed the same level of care and attention as if they had been there all season.
After a come from behind 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals on January 4, 2020, Eaves commented on PTO signee Abbott Girduckis.

“I just grabbed him (Girduckis) in the locker room because I want to talk to him. I want to ask him what he’s feeling, you know? It’s a step (from the ECHL). The pace, the size, the speed, and the skill is different. I just want to confirm that he’s feeling those things. I want to give him some feedback.”

Away from the coaching duties, Eaves was just as kind and caring to us in the media. I had several encounters with him away from the press area while in line for tea and coffee. Eaves was always quick to check on us and make sure all was well in our personal lives.
The players were just as great to work with. From seeing them interacting with their own or their teammate’s children to chatting with them on the way out of the arena, each game was a delight. Each player was kind, intelligent, and all great to interview.
Catching some of the moments that the fans don’t see was one of the highlights of the job. At the top of it has to be an interaction between Stefan Matteau and rookie Trey Fix-Wolansky in early February.

Cleveland Monsters Forward Trey-Fix Wolansky scores against Utica Comets Goaltender Zane McIntyre on February 1. 2020. Photo Credit: John Saraya / Cleveland Monsters

After a 3-2 victory over the visiting Utica Comets, the Monsters were celebrating their three stars. After his recognition, second-star Fix-Wolansky came sprinting down the corridor screaming “Matteau!” at the top of his lungs. Of course, Matteau was the afternoon’s first star. 
Every single member of the staff and media busted out in laughter. It was random but incredibly funny. Those of us in the press that witnessed that now refer to Fix-Wolansky as the “world’s best hype man.”

But You Made It Fun

This was also the first time that I was able to run a sports social media account. From getting my first follower, player interaction, and more… it was an exciting experience! Plus, this allowed me to get up close and personal with the Stanley Cup. Seriously, how cool is that?

Learning to live-tweet games had a bit of a learning curve. Trying to balance getting the information to you first and holding back to get the information right and unbiased can be difficult. After all, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotion and wanting the team you cover to do well.tet
Was my social media coverage perfect all the time? Goodness, no. But, I grew from the missteps and learned from them. Plus, I was able to learn to bring more than just text to my coverage.

Interacting with Monsters fans was just the icing on the cake. Talk about an incredibly fun and intelligent bunch! I learned so much from everyone and made a few friends in the process.
You, the readers and fans, made it all worth it for me. Every frustrating moment, every late night, every brain cramp and writer’s block was worth it. I loved meeting those that introduced themselves to me at games or interacted with me on Twitter. That is why we do what we do. For you!

Let’s Do It Again!

Looking back on the season that was, I absolutely feel like I grew as a journalist and person. From the discipline to write, continuous learning, and strengthening time management skills, I’m all the better for it! After all, the trips from Columbus to Cleveland take quite a chunk out of your day!
Despite some of the struggle and frustration, I’d do it all over again. For both you and me– I will gladly do this time and time again! Next season, I look forward to covering more games, trying to learn all I can about hockey, and bringing you, dear reader, more exclusive content.
Yes, we don’t know what the future brings in terms of when sports will return to normal. But, I am just as ready for it as you are.
Finally, I want to thank you for sticking by me through my year of firsts. It wasn’t smooth, but I enjoyed it. Here is to a healthy, safe, and productive summer for you and your family!
Follow Deana on Twitter for the latest news and notes concerning the Cleveland Monsters! Don’t forget to also follow The Sin Bin on Twitter and Facebook for all additional AHL, ECHL, and SPHL minor league hockey coverage and insights!

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