New Leaders Emerge through Unpredictable SeasonFeb 12, 2020
The Cleveland Monsters are always prepared for the possibility of recall to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the season, but the team faced a unique situation recently when injuries began to plague the organization.
The Monsters have faced challenges this season with as many as eight players filling injured spaces in the Blue Jackets’ lineup, including Monsters co-captain Nathan Gerbe. With simultaneous injuries to veterans like co-captain Zac Dalpe and Markus Hannikainen, Cleveland had to adapt and continue to build on their own season.
“You can either lament about [a situation like that] or put your best foot forward and people step up to the opportunity at hand,” said Monsters Head Coach Mike Eaves. “It is part of the nature of the beast being in the AHL, so we look at it in the light that we are giving a lot of young men opportunities to show what they can do. There are a lot of them that are jumping in and we are finding ways to win.”
While Dalpe and Gerbe were not on the ice for the Monsters, their leadership roles changed to fit the circumstances the team faced. Whether it was Gerbe on the phone talking to teammates in Cleveland or Dalpe watching games at home to stay up to speed, the captains continued to keep in tune with the team’s day-to-day exploits.
“The more I involve myself with the team [while I am injured] helps me too,” said Dalpe. “I do not get to be in the thick of things, but from what I can tell with the older group we have is that they seem like they have that [locker] room in check.”
Dalpe mentioned Brett Gallant, Dillon Simpson and Brad Thiessen as a few members of the veteran leadership group that has responded to the changes and helped fill vacancies on and off the ice.
“We also put an ‘A’ on Adam Clendening because he is a veteran that plays the right way and guys look up to him,” said Eaves. “Stefan Matteau [is another that] has done a nice job in both the way he plays and showing leadership for our young guys. It is a little different dynamic in the room but it’s still about guys stepping up.”
Following Trey Fix-Wolansky's return from injury sidelining him from mid-October until December, the young forward stepped up as a young leader through his production on ice. The rookie found a rhythm by the end of the calendar year and totaled 16 points (6G, 10A) with three multi-point games since returning to action.
With the team locked in a tight North Division playoff race and the end of the regular season looming, these positive developments in the locker room and on the ice have come at an important time. The Monsters remain just three points out of a playoff spot and start a crucial six-game road trip in Grand Rapids on Friday night.
“Talking to the coaches here, this is probably to the greatest degree this has happened in their time in terms of the number of guys being lost to call ups, injuries up there and our own injuries down here,” said Eaves. “It is a great teaching of life. This is just life in a smaller degree, and you just must choose what mindset you want to use to go into situations. We choose to look at [this] and put our best foot forward and solve the riddle with the people we have in our place.”