CLEVELAND – Buzzing with excitement, over 11,000 fans gathered at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for the home opener for the Cleveland Monsters 2019-20 season. Meeting for the first time since Cleveland’s decisive win in the first round of the American Hockey League’s playoffs last season, the Syracuse Crunch was out for redemption. They got it in the form of a 2-1 regulation win.

It seemed that every moment the Monsters were on the ice was for the fans. From the drop of the puck, fans knew that this was going to be a spirited and physical affair. Stefan Matteau and Kole Sherwood started early with massive hits and heavy play along the boards. Then, at 6:28 in the first, the first of several tussles started. Marko DanoNathan Gerbe, and Kevin Stenlund got into a short fight with several Crunch players, including former Monsters fan-favorite, Cameron Gaunce. It was evident that the Crunch was harboring many feelings of unfinished business. 

Gaunce would go on to finish the fight to hurt the Monsters where it mattered the most- on the scoresheet. He set up Luke Schenn, who was able to feed Alex Barre-Boulet across the slot for a one-timer against Monsters goalie Matiss Kivlenieks at 9:16 of the first. This was the trio’s first points of the year. 

Eric Robinson of the Monsters attempted to strike back and had an amazing opportunity at 13:46 of the first, but was denied by Syracuse goalie Scott Wedgewood. He and rookie Trey Fix-Wolansky spent considerable time together on the ice in the first and were very close to scoring, thanks to each other’s help. Unfortunately for Monsters fans, they could not seem to get it in the net.

At the end of the first, the line of Gerbe, Stenlund, and Dano were the most noticeable by far. They were fast, made good decisions both on and off the puck, and seemingly dominant when they were on the ice. 

The Crunch’s second goal of the night came on the power play at 1:24 in the second. Cal Foote tossed the puck towards the right faceoff dot to Ross Colton, who fed it to Peter Abbandonato, who sniped the puck into the net. Regardless of their 2-0 deficit, the Monsters continued their intense and physical play. 

Finally, the opportunity that the Monsters had been waiting for arrived at 6:36 of the second when Nolan Valleau was called for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct, resulting in a four-minute power play. However, less than a minute later, Matteau was called for a hooking penalty.

The physical play didn’t end there. At 10:40, Mitchell Stephens and Stenlund came together after Stephens appeared to slash Stenlund. Dalpe took the lead and ended up with a roughing minor. 

That skirmish turned the tide for the Monsters. At 12:59, Adam Clendening sent a rocket from the faceoff dot towards the net. Sam Vigneault was ready with the screen and deflected the puck, managing to make it trickle through Wedgewood’s five-hole.

Both teams were held scoreless in the third period, though it was not short on great attempts by both sides. Both goalies came up with crucial saves, and the defensive play was impressive. Kivlenieks finished with 22 saves on the night. Head Coach Mike Eaves said,

“I thought he played good. He didn’t have a tremendous amount of work, but there were times he had to come up with big saves.” 

Despite the loss, Eaves was impressed by the fans and overall game experience.

“This is big time. The energy in the building was good. This is not a normal American Hockey League rink. It’s a fun environment to play in.” 

The Monsters and Crunch face off again tonight at 7:00 pm.

Three Stars

3rd – Sam Vigneault (Cleveland Monsters) – 1g, 0a

2nd – Scott Wedgewood (Syracuse Crunch) – 31 saves, 32 shots faced

1st – Peter Abbandonato (Syracuse Crunch) – 1g, 0a

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