CLEVELAND – The Texas Stars and Cleveland Monsters met for a mid-week tilt on Thursday evening at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
The last game for both teams didn’t go well for either of them. The Stars lost in overtime against the Colorado Eagles when Colton Point’s stick and glove were knocked out of his hand by Derek Barach. This allowed T.J. Tynan to have an open net all to himself. The Monsters then fell to the Grand Rapids Griffins, 5-2. A strong start for the Monsters was no match for the way the Griffins responded.
Both teams had a chip on their shoulder and were ready to prove just how important they are to the Central Division.
For the Stars, the excitement of playing on the road powered them through their week off. “I look forward to us getting on the road because we’ve had success on the road,” said Texas forward Nick Baptiste. “We’re going to be dialed in and ready to go against Cleveland.”
Baptiste also went on to explain the key to getting the upper hand against the Monsters was to focus on cleaning up their skills and play with more cohesion in practice leading up to the three-game series. “When we’re playing as a unit, we’re a tough team to beat. We have a lot of speed and a ton of speed. When we clean up our [defensive zone] and we’re playing for each other, we’re a tough beat for anybody.”
Stars Head Coach Neil Graham echoed the sentiment and expanded a bit by stating, “I think we have to find consistency in our game. We’ve seen so much good. I think we’re playing our style. We’re tenacious.”
According to Monsters Assistant Coach Trent Vogelhuber, the mindset moving into the weekend is to “make this a miserable trip for [Texas]” by being hard to play against. The fact they are playing at home in front of their fans heightens the Monsters drive to beat the Stars. “I like to think of the mindset that it’s our building and teams should know coming in here. We might not win them all but the ones who beat us in this building are going to have to work for it.”
When both the Stars and Monsters hit the ice for warmups, it was clear they were ready to make a statement. The Monsters came out with relaxed postures and huge smiles on their faces. On the other end of the ice, the Stars practiced with an air of confidence while they worked on plays that put their slick stick work and nasty shots on display.
Due to the fact Cleveland goaltender Brad Thiessen and Texas netminder Tomas Sholl woke up and chose to be dream killers on Thursday, no one was able to score during the first period. No matter how hard everyone tried, Thiessen and Sholl were not going to let anything sneak into the net.
And try, they did.
Stars left winger Riley Tufte had a few good looks on net, including a breakaway that Thiessen casually swatted out of the air.
Monsters centerman Tyler Angle was robbed not once, but twice, by Sholl. First. Sholl kicked away Angle’s shot that came blazing down the slot. Then, he denied Angle’s rebound for the right side of the crease. Cleveland center Justin Scott even pulled out the big guns, dropping to one knee and firing a point blank shot down the slot towards Sholl. No dice.
Like I said earlier, nothing was getting past either netminder in the first period.
Tomas Sholl is out here killing all the Cleveland Monsters' hopes and dreams right now
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) March 25, 2021
Despite not scoring, the Monsters had two solid power plays in the opening stanza. They abandoned the pass-pass-pass-maybe shoot style of play and drew up meaningful plays that allowed them to get good looks on the Stars’ net.
At the end of the first period, the game was tied at zero, but the Monsters had a commanding lead in the shots category, 13-5.
With 12:25 left in the second period, Adam Clendening was able to crack Sholl’s code giving the Monsters the 1-0 lead over the Stars. He forced Sholl to bite too early, leaving the netminder on the ground outside of the crease. This allowed Clendening to drag the puck behind Sholl’s back into the net.
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) March 26, 2021
Halfway through the second, Cleveland centerman Liam Foudy tried his hardest to extend the Monsters lead to 2-0. Foudy had a wide open lane leading to the net, but his stick broke while shooting the puck. On the next play, he missed the net after being knocked off-kilter by one of the Stars. Calling it a rough shift for Foudy would be an understatement.
Cleveland headed to their first penalty kill in three weeks with seven minutes left in the second. They had control of the game while on their PK. The Stars were hemmed into their own zone a few times. When the Stars finally made it to the Monsters’ defensive zone, Cleveland constantly stole pucks away from them.
For the first 4:30 of the third period, the Stars and Monsters pulled out as many tricks as possible to try to score against Sholl and Thiessen. Just like the first period, both were immovable objects. On top of solid goaltending, each team’s defense started to apply immense amounts of pressure to their opponent.
Cleveland center Josh Dunne began to act like a third defender when the Stars gathered around the crease and poured into the slot. This allowed the Monsters’ defense to roam behind the net picking up shots that were fired wide of the net.
During Cleveland’s only power play of the third, the Stars figured out how to slow the Monsters down a bit. They clogged every open lane from the point to the net which tempered Clendening’s ability to launch heavy-handed shots towards Sholl. As time ran down their power play, the Monsters decided to start executing plays that allowed them to rush the net. They almost got one past Sholl — it was a close one, but Sholl was up to the challenge of denying Cleveland a lead.
Baptiste tied things at one with 9:41 left in the game. “The goal they (the Stars) got, it was a little bit of bad luck,” said Monsters Head Coach Mike Eaves, “We hit it. We partially blocked it and then it goes off Thiess and down. We couldn’t find it before they did.”
Cleveland defenseman Brandon Fortunato took an ill-timed penalty to put the Monsters on the penalty kill with 7:02 to play in the game. This wasn’t too much of an issue, since Angle decided to score a little over a minute into the penalty to give the Monsters the 2-1 lead.
Tyler Angle is the king of manifesting.
When he wants something bad enough, he makes it happen.
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) March 26, 2021
For Angle, this goal was full of sweet relief. “I think I was kind of battling the whole game to get that puck in the net,” he explained. “When I got that opportunity on the breakaway, I was just thinking in my head ‘third times the charm’. I better get this one in or I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to get.”
Little did Angle know, he was going to get another chance a few minutes later.
With 2:13 left in the game, Texas took a timeout to draw up plays involving six skaters and no goaltender. As time ran down on the game, Angle took off with the puck and scored on the Stars’ empty net to give the Cleveland the 3-1 win over Texas.
Now that the Monsters have seen what the Stars can do, the focus will be on Cleveland’s work ethic.
“They are a really good team,” explained Angle, “Their goalie really stayed in the net there and helped them a bit. I think going into next game, it comes to our work ethic again.” So, what exactly does work ethic entail? To Angle it means, “getting pucks deep, getting them behind the goal line, grinding them out and staying out of the box.”
Cleveland and Texas meet again on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. PDT at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
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