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Photo: John Saraya

#AHLOTB: Dalpe’s fresh start comes late in the game

by Tony Brown | AHL On The Beat

The second half of the American Hockey League season can be a stressful time for players in many situations and stages in their careers. For young players, the specter of a looming trade deadline could mean an unanticipated change in address, while for seasoned veterans, a similar outcome can yield newfound optimism as an unfamiliar setting reveals a shot at rejuvenation and a welcome clean slate.

For eighth-year forward Zac Dalpe, the latter perspective seems more apt.

“A fresh start’s always nice,” explained the former second-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes (2008, 45th overall). “I’ve noticed over my career that a fresh start never hurts, so I’m excited – my head’s spinning a little bit from the last 24 hours, but I’m eager to get at it.”

A 6-foot-1, 192-pound right-handed native of Paris, Ont., the 27-year-old Dalpe was claimed off waivers by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday from the Minnesota Wild and immediately assigned to the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters. At the time, Cleveland found themselves alone in sixth place in the AHL’s Central Division standings, hot on the heels of a pair of teams similarly vying for the Central’s final playoff spot, including Dalpe’s previous outfit, the Iowa Wild.

Having battled to stay healthy throughout the 2016-17 campaign, Dalpe logged one goal and three points in nine NHL appearances for Minnesota this season, along with two goals in 12 AHL appearances for Iowa. But for a Monsters team plagued by a rash of midseason injuries, the veteran of over 100 NHL and 250 AHL games was just what the doctor ordered.

“We’re very excited,” said Cleveland captain Ryan Craig on Tuesday. “[Dalpe] just adds another layer, [his presence] slots everybody in the right spots…we’re going to get healthier, we just need to keep moving and keep climbing…He’s a big guy, he seems excited to be here and we’re more than happy to have him.”

First-year Cleveland head coach John Madden was similarly upbeat about the prospect of Dalpe’s experience and skill-set in the context of the Monsters’ forward group, even if the former Michigan Wolverine was less than enamored with Dalpe’s collegiate pedigree.

“Well, the last time I saw him play, he went bar-down against us in Iowa, so we’re hoping he can provide some of that for us,” said Madden on Tuesday. “I told him I’m not real impressed he went to Ohio State, but I’ll let it slide… I’ve gotten to know him a little bit and I’m excited to have him in the lineup.”

For a player in unfamiliar surroundings, the only consistent part of a midseason change-of-venue is the inconsistency in terms of names and faces, but for Dalpe, at least Madden’s presence brings back memories.

“My first game in the National Hockey League, my first faceoff was against John Madden and he snapped it back on me pretty quick,” recounted Dalpe on Tuesday. “He’s a recognizable name and it’ll be fun to work with him.”

Fresh off a season-long 12-day, seven-game road trip, the Monsters defeated the first-place Grand Rapids Griffins at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Tuesday with Dalpe providing an assist in his Northeast Ohio debut. With another 12-day trek beginning Saturday in Chicago for the Monsters, it seems the insulating environment of life on the road will provide the veteran with the time and opportunity to rapidly acclimate to his newest new beginning.

“[The Monsters] have a lot of experience, they’re fast, they like to play a hard-working game and that’s what I like to do as well,” explained Dalpe. “I like to shoot the puck and I like the puck on my stick to make plays… I’m an offensive guy, I like scoring goals, I’ve kind of been snakebit this year, but hopefully with the fresh start I can score. We’ll see how I fit in.”