The Lake Erie Monsters will head to training camp in late September. New head coach Dean Chynoweth will lead the Monsters, as the club gets ready to take the ice to begin their sixth season. Chynoweth will attempt to bring a more up-tempo style to the Monsters as he deals with the obligation of having to develop players for the big club. He replaces David Quinn who was promoted to assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche.
In addition to a new coach, the biggest change for the Lake Erie Monsters will come between the pipes. Gone from last year's squad are Cedrick Desjardins and Trevor Cann; in are four youngsters vying for two spots in Sami Aittokallio, Kieran Millan, Kent Patterson, and Calvin Pickard. It is possible that one or two of these goalies will start the year with the Avs secondary affiliate in Denver with the Cutthroats (CHL).
Though talented, the concern is that these goalies have little to no experience in the AHL. Only Calvin Pickard has seen time as a professional in North America and that was limited to two games of action. These young goaltenders will be thrown into the fire. Which begs the question, why no full-time goaltending coach? Also, why not retain Desjardins or bring in a goaltender with experience? It will be of little surprise if the Monsters experience growing pains in the nets, but that is the nature of a development league and the big challenge that Chynoweth faces.
The defense will likely start the season with some familiar faces in Cameron Gaunce, Joel Chouinard, Tyson Barrie, and Stefan Elliott. David Liffiton, who had stints as captain of the Monsters, remains unsigned. Free agent additions Thomas Pock and Sean Sullivan will fill out the top six defenders on the roster. Additional depth is likely to be added by the time camp opens.
Up front sees the departures of fan favorite Greg Mauldin, leading scorer Evan Brophey, and the unfulfilled potential of Ryan Stoa. Patrick Rissmiller, Zach Cohen, and Justin Mercier were also not re-signed (though there is still a chance Mercier will be back). Head coach Dean Chynoweth is hopeful for a healthy Joey Hishon and will likely see significant playing time from Mike Connolly in a Monsters uniform barring a surprise at Colorado Avalanche training camp.
Connolly was acquired in the spring as part of a package that sent Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi to the San Jose Sharks. His 13 game stint with the club produced seven points. Expectations will be high for the former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog. Paul Carey, who is coming off a national championship with Boston College (HE), will begin his first full season with the Monsters this fall.
Another potential offensive infusion could come from former OHL regular season scoring champ Michael Sgarbossa. Sgarbossa was also apart of the swap with San Jose. The announced signing of recent 2012 second round pick Mitchell Heard adds another scoring option to the Monsters; who will be looking to improve upon a power play that ranked 17th in the AHL last season.
David van der Gulik, a potential candidate for captain, was brought back for another season. Also returning are now second and third year forwards in Brad Malone and Luke Walker respectively. Patrick Bordeleau was also retained by the organization. The Avs bolstered the veteran depth for the Monsters with free agent signings in Geoff Walker, Bryan Lerg, and Bill Thomas.
One name not yet mentioned is forward Mark Olver. He did play in 15 games with the Monsters last season, but the strong bet is that he will start the season in Denver.
It is certainly tempting to get excited over the potential scoring contributions of Mike Connolly, Joey Hishon, and Michael Sgarbossa. Not to mention, the offensive firepower on the backend from Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott. Still, it is fair to question how Hishon will perform after having not played in a game for over a year. Also, how quickly can Sgarbossa adjust from junior hockey to the rigors of the AHL? Can the team score enough and defend well enough to overcome the inexperience in goal?
All questions that we are months away from being able to answer. It is certainly likely to be another roller coaster ride for the hockey fans in Cleveland this fall. The Monsters home opener is set for October 12, 2012. The 2012-13 AHL schedule is expected to be announced later today at 1:00 PM MST.