CLEVELAND – The last time the Cleveland Monsters and Rockford IceHogs met, they split the series. This weekend both teams are trying to go for gold with a series sweep. For the Monsters, it would be an uphill battle to reach the goal of winning, as they started the game with 10 forwards, six defenders, and two goalies.
Yet, it was not the Monsters who looked like they were down multiple players. This could stem from the fact the coaching staff swiftly swapped players out and piecemealed lines when players started to look tired.
The Cleveland Monsters struck first 3:04 into the game not long after Rockford netminder Colin Delia accidentally broke his stick. With no help from the IceHogs’ defense, Nick Lappin was able to snipe the puck down the slot into the back of the net.
A few shifts later, Lappin had a shot at another goal. Unfortunately, as Lappin was going in for the kill, he tripped over Delia and flew into the boards behind the net. Lappin was slow to get up and then struggled to make his way down the tunnel. The Monsters were now rolling with nine forwards.
A quick release from the left faceoff circle by Brett Gallant gave the Monsters the 2-0 lead 7:04 into the game. Unfortunately in the first period, every goal that was scored meant a player went down. Almost two minutes later, Dillon Simpson headed down the tunnel leaving the Monsters with nine forwards and five defensemen.
The first period had a very, “What did it cost you?” “Everything” vibe for a bit there.
With 4:08 to play in the period, the Monsters nearly extended their lead over the IceHogs to 3-0 when Delia left the net wide open. Multiple Monsters tried to make a play for the open net, but somehow Delia and Cody Franson managed to get in front of the net in time to stop a goal from happening.
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) February 28, 2021
A little bit of pushing and shoving took place in front of Cleveland goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks with three seconds to play in the first. Tyler Sikura did not like the fact Evan Barrett felt the need to do a little extra poking at Kivlenieks’ pads.
The first period ended with the Monsters in complete control of their emotions and the game.
MacKenzie Entwistle cut the Monsters lead in half 6:25 into the second period. Wyatt Kaynuk tossed the puck along the blue line to Franson, who launched it down the ice towards the net. The puck bounced off Entwistle’s body. Once the puck hit the ice, Entwistle knocked it into the net for the goal.
For a moment, it appeared the IceHogs were starting to get their legs beneath them, especially when Zach Jordan went to the box after tripping John Quenneville in front of Kivlenieks. Jordan was able to redeem himself with a goal after breaking free from the penalty box.
After Jordan’s goal, Alec Regula and Franson tried their hardest to keep the puck out of the IceHogs defensive zone. Every time they were able to clear the puck to the neutral zone, the Monsters brought it right back.
With 1:43 to play in the second, the Monsters extended their lead over the IceHogs to 4-1. Conner McDonald wound up and sent the puck sailing down the ice. Sikura jumped over the puck, screening Delia in the process. Then he tapped the rebound into the net. Sikura’s jump made all the difference on the play.
Connor McDonald winds up and sends the puck sailing down the ice.
Tyler Sikura jumps over the puck screening Colin Delia in the process. Then, taps the rebound into the net.
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) February 28, 2021
Two minutes into the third period, Carson Meyer broke up a shot near the neutral zone and powered towards the net. He tried to fire the pass off to one of the Monsters, but the IceHogs descended upon him like flies to honey.
Matej Chalupa effortlessly glided the puck into the net 3:20 into the third to give the IceHogs their second goal of the night. Trey Fix-Wolansky took that personally, scoring on the power play 30 seconds later to give the Monsters the 5-2 lead. A little over a minute later, Regula joined the goal-a-palooza as he skated through the circle doing a little backhand-forehand action before backhanding the puck past Kivlenieks.
With 10:24 left in the game, the Monsters looked on the cusp of being gassed. It was time for them to dig deep and finish strong. About a minute later, the Monsters caught their second wind and powered towards the finish line. Jordan attributes this extra pep in their step to the fact they were able to get in the zone and stay in the zone. “With only having nine guys, yeah it’s tough, yea we’re low on men. But when you’re out there and able to get into a rhythm like that everyone is going, everyone is chipping in,” said Jordan.
The Monsters headed to the power play with 8:37 to go in the game after Reese Johnson tripped up Fix-Wolansky. The Monsters didn’t score on this power play, but they rushed the net like water flowing out of a broken dam. They did not make things easy on Delia.
Gallant took an Isaak Phillip stick to the face with 5:35 left in the game, putting the Monsters back on the power play. Yet again, Fix-Wolansky shone bright on the power play with a snipe from the left faceoff dot.
Thanks to guys like Nathan Gerbe, Sikura, and Fix-Wolansky, the Monsters were able to go 2-for-3 on the power play Saturday night. Fix-Wolansky attributes this to the fact, “Everyone knows their jobs on the power play.” He expanded even more to explain what it is that each one provides the unit by stating, “Sikky’s (Tyler Sikura) great in front of the net, Gerbs (Nathan Gerbe) makes great plays with the puck, and, fortunately, I’ve been able to get open for shots and they’ve been able to find me.”
After Fix-Wolansky’s second goal of the evening, the Monsters turned up the heat and finished strong, beating the IceHogs by a score of 6-3. Yes, the team with the short bench came out three goals ahead of their opponent. Head Coach Mike Eaves said after the game they discussed how, “This is probably one of those games where when they are old, they’ll talk about COVID and they’ll talk about the fact they played and won a game with nine forwards and five defensemen.”
The Monsters and the IceHogs meet again on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, just 12 hours after Saturday’s final horn. According to Fix-Wolansky, rest is a big key to winning after a tight turn around. “We can’t think about our numbers. We just gotta go home tonight and get a good meal, a good rest and be prepared for whatever they bring to the table tomorrow”