by Nicole Del Villano | AHL On The Beat
With the first few weeks of 2020 behind him, Cleveland Monsters goaltender Brad Thiessen paused to reflect on a decade, now behind him, that aligned precisely with the extent of his professional playing career to date.
“I think back to all the places I have lived and teams I have been on and realize I have been really blessed for the last 10 years,” Thiessen said in a recent interview. “I am happy the last five have been in Cleveland because it is a special place for my family where we have set some roots down, especially with three young kids.”
After 10 seasons of pro competition, these days Thiessen is experiencing a bit of a transition in role – away from battling for playing time in net and towards serving as a mentor to the younger goaltenders in his organization and dressing room.
After inking an AHL contract with Cleveland for the second straight season, signing on as the team’s third goaltending option, Thiessen has fully embraced his newfound moniker “Coach Brad,” helping third-year netminder Matiss Kivlenieks and newcomer Veini Vehvilainen as Cleveland’s full-time day-to-day goaltending coach.
“It has been nice for these first three months of the season to really focus on the other guys. The team has been going with no injuries and it allowed me to really dive into video with them,” said Thiessen. “They get into a rotation of who plays when, so I can sit down with the other guy when he’s not playing and work on the game tape. On the coaching side, things have been really good for me working with [Matiss and Veini].”
As the Monsters’ NHL affiliate, the Columbus Blue Jackets, endured an injury-riddled month of December, several Monsters players were recalled with the goaltending group affected by that attrition on Dec. 29. After Blue Jackets starter Joonas Korpisalo was placed on injured reserve, Kivlenieks received a call to Columbus to back up Elvis Merzlikins and in turn, Thiessen had to adjust his mindset to that of a day-to-day contributor on the ice.
“I had to throw the pads on again. It was exciting to get that opportunity again,” explained Thiessen. “It has been a little different this year because we have been trying to give the younger guys more reps in practice, so my ice time is kind of more goalie-specific controlled circumstances. It may take a few more days of practice to get up to speed, but once I get that under my belt it will be fine.”
It certainly helps that this transition is one that Thiessen has experienced before, as recently as the end of last season. In the final weeks of the 2018-19 campaign, the Monsters faced a goalie shortage due to injury and Thiessen found himself between the pipes amid a playoff push. The Aldergrove, B.C., native started Cleveland’s final 13 games of the regular season and backstopped the Monsters during a run to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
While the situation was familiar for Thiessen and Cleveland fans, first-year Monsters head coach Mike Eaves has been exposed to a different side of his player/coach now that his focus has shifted away from the coaches’ room and into the goal crease.
“[Brad] is turning his brain around. He is going from coach to goalie now and I saw a difference right away – it is a different focus,” said Eaves. “He knows what he needs to do and I was excited to see him play because I never had before. He is in wonderful shape which helped him easily transition back into being a goalie.”
Beloved to Cleveland fans throughout his five-year run with the Monsters, Thiessen once again thrilled the crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in his first appearance this year, a 5-4 win over the league-leading Milwaukee Admirals on Jan. 4.
Regardless of his role, Thiessen says pushing his career into its second decade is an opportunity he values every day.
“To have a home in Cleveland and to be in this organization is great,” said Thiessen. “So as long as they’ll have me, I’ll be happy to keep coming back here.”