Monsters relying on leadership core

Photo: Nathan Vestal

by Nicole Del Villano | AHL On The Beat

During an unpredictable season requiring constant flexibility and adjustments, the Cleveland Monsters’ coaching staff knew they’d need to rely on the team’s leadership core to keep things steady day-to-day.

Under the guidance of second-year head coach Mike Eaves and returning assistant coaches Steve McCarthy and Trent Vogelhuber, official leadership roles were bestowed on three players: Zac Dalpe was named team captain and Justin Scott and Dillon Simpson were named alternate captains.

“We are in the [locker] room as coaches with the team, but the leadership core is around the boys more than we are,” said Eaves. “It is important to have that good connection and leadership in the room once we leave. We think we have a good group with the guys this year.”

With only eight returning skaters on the Monsters’ opening-night roster, all three captains recognized the honor of being singled out among a small group.

“I take huge pride in wearing the C,” said Dalpe. “It is about all the times you are working hard when no one is watching and [hoping] you lead by example when there are spectators.”

For Scott, a fifth-year veteran, earning the role of alternate captain was a meaningful honor and Simpson, who returned for his third year with the Monsters, echoed that sentiment.

“At this point in my career a big part of me being here is helping the young guys,” said Simpson. “We have a lot of young players, so I want to be one of those guys who can help them along the way and get [them] to Columbus.”

While Dalpe, Scott, and Simpson may have the letters on their jerseys, McCarthy noted that the Monsters’ broader leadership core is equally strong and resourceful.

Photo: Cleveland Monsters

“We have great leadership and there are many guys in that room,” explained McCarthy. “That is one thing we strive for as a coaching staff is having that open communication… [The captains] do a great job delivering what the coaching staff is looking for and what the players are saying. We are lucky to have them as a coaching staff, but the players are lucky to have them as a peer.”

Beyond their normal duties, the Monsters’ leadership core has also been contending with the challenges of a season that includes atypical roster movement with a taxi squad, COVID protocols, and lots of new faces in the dressing room.

“My first day [in Cleveland this season] was an optional skate, and I don’t think I knew one face in the locker room,” said Simpson who was the lone returning defenseman on the Monsters’ opening night roster.

“It has been a lot of turnover, but it seems like we have a great group in there.”

Despite all the roster churn, this year’s Monsters are beginning to coalesce, incorporating a bevy of new players into an established group of returning players.

“You could tell the second everyone [arrived in Cleveland], they were in a good mood and happy to be back,” said Scott. “We are not taking it for granted being at the rink and doing our due diligence to protect others. A lot of the team chemistry and morale this year will just be at the rink.”

For Dalpe, this season carries added significance as it comes on the heels of an injury-plagued 2019-20 campaign. Entering his fifth year with the Monsters, Dalpe says this season is simply a chance to get back to doing what he loves.

“We are all [just] excited to play hockey [and feel] like kids in a candy shop,” said Dalpe. “It is a good excitement level right now. We will navigate through it all and get to know each other some more.”