Tony Brown's Playoff Notebook (4.27.19)
Tony’s Playoff Notebook
Saturday, April 27th
Practice – Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Following an impressive 3-0 home win in Game 4 of the best-of-five North Division Semi-Final to close out the Syracuse Crunch on Thursday, the Cleveland Monsters returned to the ice on Saturday for an up-tempo practice as the team prepares for the defending Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies and a best-of-seven game North Division Final series beginning on Wednesday, May 1st.
Cleveland’s victory on Thursday pushed the Monsters past the first round of the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history and, after a well-earned day off on Friday, we spoke with Monsters assistant coach Steve McCarthy and forward Paul Bittner on Saturday morning.
- Six players did not participate in Saturday’s on-ice session, including defensemen Tommy Cross (rest) and Garret Cockerill (upper-body injury), goaltenders Jean-Francois Berube (lower-body injury) and Brad Thiessen (rest) and forwards Mark Letestu (rest) and Nathan Gerbe (lower-body injury).
- Saturday’s practice marked the debut of goaltender Hayden Stewart who signed a pro tryout (PTO) contract with the club on Saturday. The former Cornell University net-minder competed in the ECHL for the Fort Wayne Komets and Orlando Solar Bears this season, but spent the majority of the campaign with the SPHL’s Knoxville Ice Bears.
- Defenseman Garret Cockerill (upper-body) skated prior to the team session individually as he continues to recover from injury.
PRESSING THE RIGHT BUTTONS
One major storyline heading into Thursday’s Game 4 vs. Syracuse was the shuffling by the Monsters’ coaching staff of the forward line combinations and two lineup changes in the forward group. Exiting the lineup after Game 3 were forwards Sam Vigneault and Kevin Stenlund in lieu of Nikita Korostelev and Paul Bittner with both latter players making their Calder Cup Playoff debuts.
Also, promoted to top-line duty was Cleveland’s Liam Foudy, and the 19 year-old, Columbus’ first-round choice (18th overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, took full advantage netting a pair of goals in the victory, the first two tallies of his professional career. On Saturday, McCarthy addressed the Game 4 adjustments and Bittner weighed in on his first-career AHL playoff appearance.
Steve McCarthy, Assistant Coach
“Obviously it was not the Game 3 that we wanted, but we thought the effort was still there…We talked as a staff and decided to make a couple changes – we thought the guys responded really well and it was just a great team effort and it was similar to games one and two. As a staff, that’s what we were looking for and the guys responded and they did a great job.
Paul Bittner, F
“I was extremely excited to get back in there being out the first three games of the series and just getting out there, being with the boys and battling in the playoffs…It was just an urgency, we didn’t want to get back on that bus and go to Syracuse and play [a prospective Game 5] on Saturday. That was in the back of our minds and we just wanted to close it out and give our fans something to cheer about and be excited about the next round so it was one of those where we just knew we had to get this one.”
Steve McCarthy, Assistant Coach (On Liam Foudy’s Game 4 performance)
“Making that jump from major junior into pro, there’s a little bit of adjustment period, as a staff, we just think he’s gotten better and better every day, every practice. I think we just got a glimpse last game – I know he scored the two goals – but he does a lot of things well, he’s responsible defensively and his speed is probably his biggest asset. It’s definitely nice to see but we expect him to get better and better and we love his work ethic.”
TIME FOR TORONTO
Cleveland’s reward for dispatching the regular-season North Division Champion Crunch? A best-of-seven date with the high-powered defending league champs from Toronto in the North Division Final. On Saturday, we asked McCarthy and Bittner about the team’s preparations for the series and what lessons the team can glean about the matchup from an eight-game regular-season series between the Monsters and Marlies in which Cleveland posted a 5-1-2 record with a +6 goal differential (36/30). Five of those eight head-to-head meetings went to overtime as well, with all but two games in the season series decided by a single goal.
Steve McCarthy, Assistant Coach
“There’s some things to take from the regular season but the playoffs, as you know, is a different ball of wax. [Toronto] has a great hockey team. They’re fast, they can put the puck in the net, they’ve got great goaltending, they pretty much check all the boxes so we’re expecting a good, hard series. We feel good about ourselves coming off the win vs. Syracuse but we’re facing a tough opponent…We’ll go over it this week and get set for Game 1 on Wednesday.
Paul Bittner, F
“It’s hard not to think about the regular season, how many goals scored between each of us was pretty incredible throughout the season and how many OT games – I think this is going to be a great series. One thing we need to really crack down is our D-zone - shut them down off the rush, don’t allow turnovers in the neutral zone, things like that…We just need to bear down defensively and really stick it to them, then get pucks deep and get our offense going.”
Here’s your friendly broadcast reminder - be sure to join me for Game 1 of the best-of-seven game North Division Final as we’ll bring you every second of the action, live from Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:00 pm EST on Alt 99.1, AHLTV and the Monsters Hockey Network with additional broadcast information announced in the coming days.