CLEVELAND – Rallying behind a new head coach and the first playoff appearance since their Calder Cup-winning season in 2015-16, the Cleveland Monsters look to have a statement year. The Monsters have a strong returning core full of young and promising players while also having several skilled new additions throughout the lineup.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 37-29-8-2, 84 points
Division/Conference Finish: 4th in the North / 9th in the East
Playoff Finish: Eliminated in the second round in four games by the Toronto Marlies
Record vs. Division: 21-18-5-0
Record vs. Conference: 28-25-6-1
Goals For Per Game: 3.05/16th in the AHL
Goals Against Per Game: 3.08/21st in the AHL
Power Play: 17.00%, 46 goals on 270 attempts, 25th in the AHL
Penalty Kill: 83.8%, 47 goals allowed on 290 attempts, 7th in the AHL
The Monsters have parted ways with former head coach John Madden. Mike Eaves was named the sixth head coach in Monsters history on June 18th. His biggest focus as a coach is on player development, with winning still being an important objective. Most recently, he coached on the collegiate level leading the University of Wisconsin to a 2006 NCAA championship. The Badgers appeared in seven NCAA Tournaments and two national championships under his watch. He also was the head coach of Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2004, where the team received their first-ever gold medal. He is no stranger to coaching young players and developing them into pro-level athletes.
The I-71 affiliate connection of the Blue Jackets and Monsters has been extended. On August 20th, the clubs announced a multi-year affiliation agreement extension. Over the past four years, both teams have seen significant benefits from being in the same state. This allows the prospects to be more readily available for callups or for young players to be assigned to the Monsters for increased ice time during days off for the Jackets. Expect to see more of the same this upcoming season with continuous roster changes due to injuries or illnesses. Having such easy access can help with the development of both the organization and the individual players.
Who will be the starting goaltending duo for the Monsters? Right now, there are three goalies are vying for the roles: Matiss Kivlenieks, Brad Theissen, and Veini Vehvilainen. Kivlenieks has had a tough career thus far, resulting in limited starts in both the AHL and ECHL. However, continued study under a veteran such as Theissen can help his confidence and in developing his skills. Theissen has proven to be a steady goaltender, resulting in the moniker of “Brick Wall Brad.” Even though he served in a coaching and player hybrid role last season, Thiessen managed to lead the Monsters on to a first-round victory in four games over the division champion Syracuse Crunch. It is expected he will fill a similar role this season in mentoring both Kivlenieks and Vehvilainen on and off the ice.
At this time, Vehvilainen looks to be the potential starting goaltender. Last season, he led Finland’s top professional league in wins, goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts.
“When I took the job, and I looked at the roster of last year’s team, and what we could have, 80 percent of our guys were between 22 and 26. My seniors last year at St. Olaf were 24 and 25. It’s the same (age) group. So, it’s been 30 years since I coached in this league in Hershey and it’s changed. That’s probably the biggest change I see is that aspect. It’s truly a development league.” — Mike Eaves on the transition from a college-level coach to pro:
After an impressive training camp, defenseman Andrew Peeke looks to be one of the more exciting players going into this upcoming season. Peeke, a 2016 second-round draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets, will be making his AHL debut this season. The former Notre Dame captain looked to have a solid chance of potentially making the Blue Jackets roster but was one of the last training camp cuts. Last season, Peeke skated with Notre Dame in his junior year, earning 24 points in 40 games. Peeke is a mature and steady player that seems beyond ready to begin his pro career.
Forward Trey Fix-Wolansky was taken in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. At age 20, he is the youngest player on the team. Only standing at 5-foot-6, he is undersized but has the skill and tenacity to make up for any physical shortcomings. Skating with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season, he tallied 102 points in just 65 games while also earning 14 points in 16 playoff games. The Monsters seem to have a way of getting the most out of undersized players (see Nathan Gerbe and T.J. Tynan), so expect Fix-Wolansky to produce.
Marko Dano is not a rookie in the league or with the Monsters. However, he is looking to have a rebound year after becoming a journeyman throughout the NHL and AHL. Another late Blue Jackets training camp cut, Dano joins the Monsters as a player with a chip on his shoulder. He has proven to be a highly skilled skater with great instincts. Expect to see Dano fighting for top minutes and to make an impact on this team.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Fan-favorite Alex Broadhurst was traded to the San Diego Gulls at the trade deadline in 2019. He joined the team in 2015 and had been a staple in the Monsters lineup. Along with his brother, Terry Broadhurst, he regularly served on the top line and was among team leaders in points and goals. His production, two-way play, and penalty-killing skills will be missed.
Mark Letestu was one of the veteran players on last year’s Monsters team. Playing in 64 games, he tallied 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points. He provided leadership and stability on a very young team heavy with inexperience. He quickly proved himself a great asset both on the ice and in the locker room.
Even though it took him some time to get going, Vitaly Abramov is a player that could have contributed offensively this season for the Monsters. In his rookie campaign, he scored 12 goals and ten assists for 22 points in 52 games. Once mid-February rolled around, Abramov hit his stride, scoring ten goals in 12 games. One of his main struggles was with puck management, though he made marked improvements by the time he was traded. Assuming his growth continues, he could have been an excellent scoring asset for the Monsters.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Don’t expect the Monsters to sprint right out of the gate. With several new faces, including their head coach, there will be a steep learning curve. However, the rookies on the Monsters roster all had strong showings in their college and junior hockey careers, which will help keep them afloat in the early part of the season. The team should heat up and gel as the season progresses. Assuming the chemistry forms in time, the Monsters should make the playoffs for the second straight year.