Columbus Blue Jackets' top affiliate chasing AHL Calder Cup after 'Monster' season (2024)

Brian HedgerColumbus Dispatch

The Cleveland Monsters’ bus rolled toward home with a flickering light ofNHL playoff games streaming on its TV screens.

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After clinching the American Hockey League’s North Division with a 3-1 victory April 21 over the Toronto Marlies, their first division title in franchise history, the Monsters celebrated the only way a team full of “hockey nerds” knows how to do it.

They watched the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs together, picturing themselvesin those games someday. One of them, goalie Malcolm Subban, sat toward the back and face-timed with his older brother, P.K., who’s now an ESPN studio analyst after finishing his playing career as a star NHL defenseman.

“Ya gotta give us a shout out!” Malcolm shouted. “Ya gotta give us a shout out!”

The bus chugged onward, the games continued to flicker and, eventually, the next intermission arrived. Sure enough, P.K. and hall-of-famer Mark Messier appeared on-screen and gave the Monsters their “shout out” on national television.

Assistant coach Mark Letestu cracked a smile. An NHL veteran of 11 seasons, who began his professional journey in the AHL, Letestu and his fellow coaches felt goose bumps at their team’s reaction.

“The boys went nuts,” Letestu said. “It was a lot of fun.”

It was also a perfect way to conclude another season that went down to the wire for the Monsters, who arepowered by Blue Jackets prospects. A year earlier,Cleveland felt the sting of finishing just short of qualifying for the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

Now, the Monsters are the North’s top seed. After getting a bye through the first round, they’ll begin their own playoff ‘Cup’ quest Wednesday night in Belleville, Ontario. They’re one of the AHL’s most prospect-laden playoff teams, coached by a mostly young staff ledby head coach Trent Vogelhuber, and the bonds the Monsters have already forged could soon pay off in Columbus.

Just like 2016, when they won the Calder Cup as the Lake Erie Monsters, the Blue Jackets’ top affiliate in the minors is poised to give a host of NHL hopefuls a valuable experience that could last throughout their careers. It starts with a best-of-fiveagainst the Belleville Senators, including the final three gamesnext week at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, and the hockey nerds are ready to go.

“It’s been a solid first six months,” Vogelhuber said. “Now, the fun begins.Guys just want to get to the fun part, and that’s the playoff games, but I can tell the guys are ready. They’re excited and the coaches are the same way.”

Cleveland Monsters rallied to win AHL North

The most challenging thing about fielding a winner in the AHL is the transient nature of the league, which isa developmental feeder for the NHL.

Injuries or trades at the NHL level create a vacuumthat pulls players up to fill roster holes, leaving AHL rosters with gaping voids. General managers of AHL teams are often scrambling to even field full lineups at points, pulling players from the ECHL, U.S colleges and juniors.

“When we look at our roster at the beginning of the year, it’s always a joke saying, ‘This isn’t going to be even close to what we have at the end of the year,’ or even in December or January,” said Chris Clark, the Blue Jackets’ director of player personnel and Monsters’ general manager.“It’s something where the coaching staff does a terrific job of rolling with it. I’ll call them and say, ‘Hey, this guy’s coming up,’ and they say, ‘Alright, cool. We’ll talk to him. We’ll figure it out.’”

They usually do, too, even though it can become a scramble.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Monster. After the Blue Jackets dealt Jack Roslovic and Andrew Peeke at the NHL trade deadline (March 8), they were hit with a spate of injuries. A parade of Monsters made their way to Columbus, and the parade didn’t stop until the Jackets ended their season with avictory April 16 over the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena.

Rookies Luca Del Bel Belluz and James Malatesta scored goals in that game, while rookie goalie Jet Greaves earned the win. All three plus a handful of others were reassigned to Cleveland after the game, giving the Monsters a needed jolt.Cleveland had already clinched a playoff spot, but three road games remained to make a push for the division title.

Powered by the return of key regulars, the Monsters got it done by sweeping all three games and getting some help in other games.

It was a relief after dropping back to third in the North during a seven-game winless skidprompted by the Blue Jackets’ injury glut.

“Last year, I think if we had one more week of games, if we had one more game or two more games, I think we would’ve made the playoffs and really could’ve done some damage,” Clark said. “We were fortunate this year to have a little bit of a cushion, but the young players who weren’t called up (to Columbus) plus the AHL contract guys really stepped up when we needed it during that six-week stretch where a lot of the team was gone. It was fun to watch.”

Cleveland Monsters’ coaching staff, Columbus Blue Jackets prospectslearning to win together

Mike Haviland, 56, has his name etched on the Stanley Cup from his time with the Chicago Blackhawks and is the elder statesman of the Monsters’ staff.

The others are all just a few years out from their playing days.

Vogelhuber is 35, played six full professional seasons (AHL, ECHL) and helped the Monsters win the Calder Cup in 2016. He’s already finishing his second full season as Cleveland’s head coach. Letestu is 39 and retiredafter 2019-20. Goalie coach Brad Thiessen is 38 and played his final professional season in 2020-21 for the Monsters as a player/coach.

“I think it would be an understatement to say that we have a blast together, and that includes the training staff, the medical staff, the coaching staff,” Letestu said. “We have a lot of fun and I think we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We disagree on a lot of things, but all good staffs do.It’s been cool building something over three years, and now we’re getting a chance to reward ourselves as a team in the playoffs.”


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Columbus Blue Jackets' top affiliate chasing AHL Calder Cup after 'Monster' season (2024)


What happened to the Lake Erie Monsters? ›

At the start of the 2016-2017 season, the team was renamed the Cleveland Monsters, the new name and emphasis on the colors wine and gold tying them more closely to the Cleveland Cavaliers, with whom they share the Quicken Loans Arena. In addition, a new head coach was appointed, with John Madden taking over for Bednar.

Who is Columbus AHL affiliate? ›

The Cleveland Monsters are a professional ice hockey team in the American Hockey League (AHL). The team began play in 2007 as the Lake Erie Monsters and since 2015 has served as the top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League (NHL).

Who owns Lake Erie Monsters? ›

The Monsters are part of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse organization and also owned by a group led by Cavaliers Chairman and Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert.

Who are the Cleveland Monsters NHL affiliate? ›

The Monsters, the minor league affiliate of the Blue Jackets, are competing in the American Hockey League postseason for the first time since 2019.

Why was Lake Erie declared dead? ›

During the 1960s, Lake Erie was declared a “dead lake” due to eutrophication and pollution. The children's book, The Lorax, written by Dr. Seuss, actually included the following line referring to fish: “They will walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn't so smeary.

What was found at the bottom Lake Erie? ›

Abnormally low water levels at Lake Erie gave some people a glimpse into history when they discovered what appeared to be a hidden shipwreck still equipped with two cannons at the bottom of the lake.

What NHL team has no AHL affiliate? ›

- By now, it is well-documented that the Carolina Hurricanes do not have an American Hockey League affiliate.

Have an NHL team and their AHL affiliate ever won? ›

On three occasions an AHL club and its NHL affiliate won their league championships in the same year: In 1976 and 1977, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup while their AHL affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, won the Calder Cup, and in 1995, the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils saw their AHL affiliate, ...

Do the Blue Jacket have an ECHL affiliate? ›

For the beginning of the 2023–24 season, 28 of the 32 NHL teams held affiliations with an ECHL team with only the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, and Arizona Coyotes having no such franchise affiliations.

What is the Ohio AHL team? ›

Cleveland Monsters Roster 2023-24 Regular Season | | The American Hockey League.

What was the old name of the Cavs Arena? ›

ROCKET MORTGAGE FIELDHOUSE, originally named Gund Arena, opened in 1994 at 100 Gateway Plaza as part of the new Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex, which was intended to revitalize downtown Cleveland. It shared the site with JACOBS FIELD baseball park, with which it was constructed simultaneously.

Did Cleveland ever have an NHL team? ›

The Cleveland Barons were a professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1976 to 1978. They were a relocation of the California Golden Seals franchise that had played in Oakland since 1967.

Who is the Kraken farm team in the AHL? ›

The Firebirds began play in the 2022–23 AHL season. The team is an owned-and-operated affiliate of the National Hockey League (NHL)'s Seattle Kraken.

Does Wayne Gretzky own a team? ›

He became a minority owner of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes in 2000 and was later named the Coyotes' head coach in 2005.

What team is Wayne Gretzky affiliated with? ›

After playing for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues, and the New York Rangers, he retired after winning four Stanley Cups and breaking many records. But Wayne was only getting his career started as a business man and a venture capitalist.

Is there a Lake Monster in Lake Erie? ›

In northeastern Ohio and Michigan folklore, Bessie is a name given to a lake monster in Lake Erie, also known as South Bay Bessie or simply The Lake Erie Monster.

When did the Lake Erie Monsters change their name? ›

Published: Aug. 09, 2016, 5:50 p.m.

What is the old name for the Lake Erie Monsters? ›

The Cleveland Monsters, known before the 2016–17 season as the Lake Erie Monsters, are an American professional ice hockey team that began playing in 2007.


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