CLEVELAND – Redemption. For the Cleveland Monsters, the team was looking to redeem a rough season opener on Friday night, where they fell 7-3 to the Rochester Americans. Meanwhile, the Grand Rapids Griffins hoped to redeem a slow 0-2-0 start. For one team, they would emerge from Saturday afternoon’s tilt in Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse with their first victory of the season.
For the first five minutes of the first period, Grand Rapids dictated both the speed and pace. Cleveland seemed to be pinned in their own zone most of the time, with the Griffins swarming and ready with the poke check every time the puck hit the neutral zone.
Veteran Cleveland goaltender Brad Thiessen was ready to answer the call for the Monsters. Several key saves early on helped keep the game scoreless, despite all of the Griffins’ quality chances. The Monsters defenseman, led by Dillon Simpson, also stood at the ready, bailing out their goalie when he let up the occasional rebound. It would’ve been all too easy for the Monsters to get frustrated and off their game early, especially in a pivotal moment where Monsters Captain Zac Dalpe fell victim to a turnover, which gave Evegeny Svechnikov perhaps the best scoring chance for the Griffins in the first period.
Tyler Sikura was called for the first penalty of the game at 10:17, sending Cleveland to the penalty kill. Led by Ryan MacInnis, they actually got some quality chances, absolutely dominating Grand Rapids during the penalty.
Around the middle part of the first, the physical play made a debut in a big way. Nathan Gerbe was at full stride in the Griffins’ zone before he was sandwiched between two of their defensemen. The Monsters bench was extremely vocal during this hit, which led to no calls.
Adam Helewka and Svenchnikov then came together in front of the Monsters bench with about 2:45 left in the first. Nothing came of it, but you could tell that some rivalry is already starting to brew between the teams.
Towards the end of the period, Tyler Spezia and Jake Christiansen got tied up on the boards behind the Cleveland net. Christiansen tried to skate away, but his stick was stuck under Spezia’s arm, which led to Spezia being dragged on his knees almost halfway across the Monsters’ zone. Again, there was no call, and the crowd was in full voice protesting the non-call.
Cleveland ended the period with a couple of excellent shot attempts in the last 30 seconds. Kole Sherwood seemed to be trying to set a precedent early with hustle, grit, and some brilliant plays, all the way through to the final seconds.
Speed was the name of the game in the second period. Whether it was Sherwood, Gerbe, Dalpe, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Schevnikov, or Troy Loggins, players from both teams were racing around the rink like speed skaters. It made for several entertaining races for the puck.
Just like in the start of the first, the Griffins seemed to put a lockdown on time in Cleveland’s zone. A few minutes into the second, Cliff Pu, Justin Scott, and Nick Lappin were able to engineer a lengthy and solid shift, giving Cleveland both momentum and confidence.
A few minutes later, the crowd was energized again as Gerbe and defenseman Brandon Fortunato skated on a two-on-one breakaway. Gerbe fed Fortunato in front of a sprawling Pat Nagle. Unfortunately for the Monsters, Fortunato missed the feed.
Less than a minute later, during a power-play after a Loggins high-sticking call, Cleveland would get the lead at 11:28. It started with some confusion and a bouncing puck. Then Dalpe gained control of the puck and fed Fix-Wolansky, who was speeding into the Griffins’ zone. He quickly snapped the puck off his stick, sending a laser past Nagle on a power-play goal.
The momentum stayed with Cleveland, with several more high-quality chances on Nagle. Fix-Wolansky and Sikura spent considerable time on the ice together and, for Monsters fans, may be a pairing to watch. Crisp passing, solid communication, and the fact they can keep pace with each other? The chemistry between them looks to be building fast.
Grand Rapids would tie the game up during a power play after Lappin was called for hooking at 14:54. Kyle Criscuolo bounced the puck off a lively end board behind Thiessen, which sent the puck flying out in front of the net. Who was there? Svechnikov. All alone. A flick of the wrist, and we have a tied game.
The third period for Grand Rapids was a clinic on intensity and energy. They came out of the locker room and were absolutely buzzing for the entire third. RW Jarid Lukosevicius seemed to be leading their group by example with pesky poke checks and a very physical game.
Early in the third, Griffins LW Turner Elson gained possession on a takeaway behind the Cleveland net. He fed Riley Barber, who was out at the bottom of the left circle. A sniped puck later, and the Griffins have the lead, 2-1 at 1:53.
Key shot-blocking from Cleveland’s Gavin Bayreuther help keep Cleveland in the game. Head coach Mike Eaves was also seen repeatedly walking up and down the bench in the third, seemingly encouraging and trying to keep everyone motivated.
Gerbe and Fix-Wolansky also had several more high-danger chances but either just missed wide or high, or Nagle was there to answer the call.
Elson ended up icing the game in the Griffins’ favor with 1:30 remaining.
The Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Cleveland Monsters with a final score of 3-1.
After the game, the Monsters gathered at center ice and saluted the 2,270 fans in attendance.
Post Game Quotes
Eaves met with the press post-game for media availability.
On the difference between the home opener and this game:
“It’s funny what makes a difference in a game. I thought we were tighter tonight. The difference was a puck off the boards in front of the net. Gotta find a way to win those.”
When asked if the players or coaches were the force behind the swings between physicality and speed:
“I think that is just how the game goes sometimes. Our game is a game of speed and physicality. It’s the two elements that make our game exciting. Since my day, the game has gotten way faster and the physicality has never left. It’s one of the reasons why I think we have a good fan base.”
Third Star: Fix-Wolansky (1 goal)
Second Star: Svechnikov (1 goal)
First Star: Barber (Game winner)
The Cleveland Monsters return to action on Saturday in Grand Rapids. Puck drop is at 4:00 pm at Van Andel Arena.