Greaves flourishing in Monsters crease

Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

It’s been a long journey just to get this far for Cleveland Monsters goaltender Jet Greaves.

It usually is for an undrafted player.

First, the Cambridge, Ont., native played two seasons with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League before his third year was canceled because of the pandemic. He got his foot in the door in July 2021 by signing a two-year AHL contract with Cleveland.

In his first pro season, 2021-22, Greaves divided his time between Cleveland and Kalamazoo of the ECHL. He impressed the Columbus Blue Jackets enough to earn a three-year entry-level contract on Feb. 20, 2022.

In year two, he emerged as Cleveland’s number-one goaltender, taking on a 43-game workload with the Monsters and getting his first taste of the NHL – an impressive 46-save showing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Scotiabank Arena, where he grew up cheering for the Leafs.

But this season was when Greaves really began to flourish. He was selected to represent the Monsters at the AHL All-Star Classic. He won 30 games, one off the league lead. He also got an extended look in Columbus, where he ended up playing nine games.

Since returning to the Monsters for the final week of the AHL regular season, Greaves has taken command of the Cleveland crease. His three road wins in less than 48 hours helped the Monsters claim their first division title. Next came his first taste of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and after a Game 1 loss in the opening series against Belleville, Greaves has backstopped Cleveland to five straight wins, finishing off the Senators and jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on Syracuse in the North Division Finals. He leads the Calder Cup Playoff goaltending field in goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.951) through six starts.

In junior, Greaves had the opportunity to work with Barrie’s director of goaltending Billy Smith. The two forged a strong relationship, with a teenage Greaves learning from a Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Stanley Cup champion whose career path started similarly to Greaves’ own. As a Los Angeles Kings prospect, Smith spent two seasons in the AHL, winning a Calder Cup with Springfield in 1971. He was claimed by the New York Islanders in the NHL expansion draft a year later and went on to a legendary 17-year NHL career.

“It was great,” Greaves said of the chance to learn from Smith. “For me at that age, there were so many new experiences. It’s great to have somebody who has been through some of those things and played and won at the highest level… Just to be able to pick his brain and learn as much as you can.

“That’s always the biggest thing for me, just trying to keep learning, and Billy was a great person to have teach me about the mental side of the game and things like preparation, all the details of the game, share some of that experience with me. I was really grateful for that.”

Add goaltending mentors in the Blue Jackets organization in Manny Legace, Brad Thiessen and Niklas Backstrom, and Greaves has built himself a strong foundation that he can combine with excellent off-ice and preparation skills. He also worked closely with Matt Smith, who is now the developmental goaltending coach for the Rockford IceHogs.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to play a lot of games,” Greaves said, “and I feel like through those experiences you see so many different situations and how to handle those different experiences, and I’ve been really grateful for that. I’ve had a lot of good people around me, both here and in Columbus. The people around me have been a huge help, and I’ve just really enjoyed that learning every step.”

Put a willing, eager and talented student with that kind of teaching, and success follows. The Monsters are one victory away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and for a goaltender who has taken on heavy work through his first three pro seasons, the postseason means even more development opportunities and a chance to make a strong impression at training camp in Columbus come September.

“Right from the start two years ago when he came in, he was a pro,” Monsters head coach Trent Vogelhuber told earlier this season. “He comes in at 20 years old, and with most of those kids you’re going through habits, the way you practice, and even helping away from the rink, everything down to sleep and food. A lot of kids just don’t know. Jet came in as a pro.

“First to the rink. Last out. Crosses every ‘t.’ Dots every ‘i.’ Works harder than anybody. He’s a leader for us because of the way that he carries himself, the teammate that he is. He’s a glue teammate everybody loves.”