Monsters not deterred despite series deficit

Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Disappointed. Proud. Resolute.

Those were some of the emotions that the Cleveland Monsters expressed after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals last Saturday night.

For the second game in a row, the Monsters had proven that they could stand in there with the Hershey Bears. And for the second game in a row, they had come away on the wrong end of overtime dramatics.

In Game 1, Cleveland unleashed a dramatic comeback with two goals in 83 seconds late in the third period to erase a 4-2 deficit. Two nights later, the Monsters tied Game 2 with 1:33 to play. David Jiricek, the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft by Columbus, scored the tying goal in each game.

But both nights ended painfully for the Monsters. Mike Vecchione netted the winning goal in Game 1. Pierrick Dubé was Hershey’s hero in Game 2.

“Two bounces,” Monsters forward Josh Dunne said. “It could be a 2-0 series our way.”

But it’s not. Instead the Monsters are down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series going into Game 3 tonight at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“It’s tough for those guys,” head coach Trent Vogelhuber said after Game 2. “They worked so hard. [There is] not a lot I would have changed in the second half of that game, especially. You invest in the first half for a couple periods, and you hope it pays off towards the end.

“We don’t quit. We stick together. Good or bad, we’re just going to go and I think that’s been the story all year. Our team’s just going to play, and that’s why I’m not worried about them for the next game.”

There are some reasons for hope. First, there is that Cleveland crowd. The Monsters averaged 10,263 fans per game in the regular season, the most by any AHL team in the last 25 years. Through four playoff dates, their average is more than 11,000.

“The energy is incredible,” Dunne said, “and we feed off them.”

Monsters captain Brendan Gaunce was back in the lineup for Game 2, his first game since finishing the regular season with Columbus. Gaunce assisted on Jiricek’s game-tying goal.

And Monday, Cleveland added 19-year-old blueliner Denton Mateychuk after he finished his junior season with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. Taken 12th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, Mateychuk was selected as this season’s WHL defenseman of the year as well as a member of the Canadian Hockey League’s First All-Star Team. He supplied 75 points (17 goals, 58 assists) in 52 regular-season games while captaining Moose Jaw, and added another 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 20 playoff games. The Manitoba native also skated for Canada at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“You play the game in front of you, and we’re going to keep going until they tell us we’re not playing anymore,” Vogelhuber said. “That’s all it is. Our group loves each other. We love being around each other. So any opportunity we get to be around each other longer, we’re going to take advantage of that regardless of the outcome.

“It’s not a two-game series.”

Said Dunne, “We showed them that this is going to be a series, and we’re going back to our barn.”