CLEVELAND — Put the puck on net and good things happen. The Cleveland Monsters found that out first-hand as they overwhelmingly defeated the Rockford IceHogs. An emotionally charged affair which resulted in multiple fights and an offensive outburst delighted the 8,877 fans gathered at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Monsters found themselves on their heels early as Adam Clendening was called for slashing just nine seconds into the match. However, he quickly redeemed himself after the penalty, helping provide double coverage with Gabriel Carlsson on a solid scoring opportunity by Rockford.
Stefan Matteau welcomed former Monsters fan-favorite Nick Moutrey with a crunching hit as Moutrey entered the Rockford offensive zone. Shortly after, the offensive production came to life. Rockford struck first when Matthew Highmore carried the puck in from the neutral zone. He chipped it behind the net, where it caromed off a defenseman. Dylan Sikura picked it up along the left boards and immediately put it on net where Matiss Kivlenieks blocked it but gave up the rebound. Tyler Sikura then tapped it home. The IceHogs take a 1-0 lead at 9:52 of the first.
Anton Karlsson hit back with a response goal 12 seconds later. Markus Hannikainen and Eric Robinson battled multiple IceHogs to get out of the neutral zone. Hannikainen dropped below the goal line and passed to a wide-open Karlsson, who lasered the puck in the net behind IceHogs goaltender Collin Delia. The Monsters tied it up at 10:04.
About three minutes later, Karlsson bombed another shot from the blue line. Calvin Thurkauf attempted to stuff it in behind Delia but was denied. Luckily for the Monsters, Ryan MacInnis was on the doorstep and tallied his first of the season. Monsters took the lead 2-1.
That’s when Nathan Gerbe decided to get in on the action. He put a shot on net from below the goal line, but it deflected off Rockford’s Lucas Carlsson. Forty-four seconds after taking the lead, the Monsters get the insurance goal, igniting the crowd. This set Rockford on their heels, resulting in unsteady play.
Cleveland sensed the nervousness and made Rockford pay. Thurkauf was able to set up a patient and waiting Paul Bittner, who tucked it in on Delia’s stick side, extending the lead to 4-1 on his first goal of the young season.
The second period saw a decrease in scoring but increased physical play. Twenty-eight seconds into the second, Justin Scott dropped the gloves against Rockford’s Reese Johnson. Johnson challenged Scott after a rough hit along the boards on Adam Boqvist. After trading a few jabs, Johnson fell to the ice. Scott was given an instigating minor, fighting major, and a game misconduct while Johnson was given five for fighting.
Kole Sherwood, Dillon Simpson, and Zac Dalpe were noticeable early, racking up several quality chances. Of note was a Dalpe attempt which got past Delia but lost momentum just before crossing the goal line. This escape from an almost sure goal resulted in the IceHogs skating with a more purpose. It seemed for a time that whatever rust they had during the first had been knocked off.
Despite several strong chances from Dalpe and Rockford’s Alexandre Fortin, it was clear that both the goalies and the defense were dialed in. Though at 14:05 of the second, MacInnis carried the puck into the zone, circled the net, and shot the puck. Thurkauf tapped it in behind Delia. The lead was extended to 5-1. Post-game, Thurkauf reflected on his goal and the contributions of his linemates.
“It was mostly (MacInnis’) effort. He brought it up the ice and drove the guy wide. I just drove the net, and he laid it in there for me. I just try to get it on net and fortunately, it went in.”
Sam Vigneault then felt he needed to play around with the in-arena announcer. Before the announcer could finish announcing the previous goal, he tallied his own, making it 6-1 Cleveland.
In the closing minutes of the second, D. Sikura and G. Carlsson got into a small battle behind the net. Cleveland also kept up with the offensive onslaught as Hannikainen, Sherwood, and Gerbe all had golden opportunities but were unable to bury the puck.
Though the second period was not as action-packed, it was a showcase for the emotions and physicality that would be awaiting fans in the third.
Monsters head coach Mike Eaves emphasized several points in the second intermission, one being good decision making:
“There were five things we talked about going into the third period, and one of them was to make sure that we have made good decisions at the blue lines and let the puck work for us; just keep it simple move and nobody skates as fast as a good pass.”
In the dying seconds of a Matteau interference penalty, Kivlenieks got tangled up with one of the Rockford players. Seeing his goalie in difficulty, Karlsson flew into the Cleveland net and blocked a shot with his skate, quickly becoming the save of the night.
Tensions came to a head at 11:30 of the third as Sherwood attempted to enter the Monster zone. As the officials called the play dead for offsides, Ian McCoshen began to shove him. This escalated into a line brawl with everyone, sans goalies, grabbing a partner. Gerbe ended up getting injured, but Coach Eaves praised him post-game.
“He’s a tough little nut, you know. He stood up for himself, which is nice.”
In total, 50 minutes’ worth of penalties were awarded with Johnson, McCoshen, Gerbe, and Sherwood all receiving misconducts. Cleveland ultimately came out on top, scoring five seconds later. Dalpe sunk a Clendening pass from the point, resulting in the final goal of the night. The Monsters won 7-1.
The Monsters are back in action on Saturday, October 26, 2019, at 1:00 pm ET in Cleveland against Rockford.