It didn't take much to convince Josh Dunne that Columbus was the right place for him.
When the Clarkson University captain entertained offers from NHL teams this spring, everything he wanted was in the city.
He had visited before, having been at the team's 2019 summer prospects development camp, and was familiar with the leaders of the organization. He had been scouted over the years by the team, maybe not a huge surprise considering general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and director of player development Chris Clark both played their college hockey at Clarkson.
And, there was a family tie, too. Sisters, Jessica and Jincy played their college hockey at Ohio State, and Jincy is still in town going for her masters' degree while gearing up for preparations to try to make the 2022 U.S. Olympic team.
"She was super excited to hear that I signed," said Josh, who inked a two-year entry-level deal with the Blue Jackets earlier this month. "I've been there a few times. I visited my sisters back when they were going to Ohio State. I'm very familiar with the Columbus area. It's a great city."
Dunne, who spoke this past week with Dylan Tyrer on the Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets Radio Network, has reported to AHL Cleveland, where the 6-foot-4 forward has played in four games without a point thus far.
But he showed enough in his college career to intrigue the Blue Jackets, who see his size and grinding game as a fit with the organization. He also can score some, too, as evidenced by a 2019-20 season with the Golden Knights in which he had 13 goals and 27 points in 32 games. Dunne also tallied 14 times as a freshman in 2018-19, and he was plus-24 over three seasons with Clarkson.
With his size and strength, he said he models his game after hard-working forwards like New York Islanders veteran Casey Cizikas and two-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Maroon.
"I like to battle, I like to grind," he said. "I like to make it difficult for the other team as much as I can. I try not to do too much with the puck and keep it simple, just play hard hockey and get to the net and keep it going north."
Dunne said the AHL game is faster so he's still adjusting to the level, especially after a helter-skelter college season in which he played just 14 games with two goals and three assists for a Clarkson team whose season was plagued and ultimately ended by COVID-19 issues.
A native of O'Fallon, Miss., outside of St. Louis, he's the latest in a strong line of players to come out of the AAA Blues system, a list that includes NHL players like Brady and Matthew Tkachuk, Trent Frederic and Clayton Keller. All because of at the age of 3, Dunne saw the sport of hockey and decided he wanted to play, a decision that not only launched his career but those of Jincy, Jessica, and younger siblings Josey (playing at the University of Minnesota), James (currently playing in high school) and Joy (playing in the Blues AA program).
"The irony was my parents never played," Josh said. "I wanted to play when I was a little kid. I think I was 3 years old, I wanted to try it out. My sisters saw me doing it, they liked it, and the next thing you know, we started playing it, and we all fell in love with it individually. It just worked out really well."
Monsters Capture 2 of 3
Dunne and the Monsters put together a solid weekend, taking two of three from visiting Texas. The only disappointment might be that it could have been three of three, as Cleveland lost the middle game of the set despite building a 3-0 lead.
In the opener Thursday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland captured a 3-1 victory behind 31 saves from veteran goalie Brad Thiessen. The Monsters also got two goals from Tyler Angle, as the AHL rookie made it four goals in his first four pro games with the tallies, while Adam Clendening also scored and Liam Foudy had two assists.
In the middle game Saturday, goals from Kole Sherwood, Carson Meyer and Foudy staked Cleveland to a 3-0 lead, but Texas roared back to win 4-3, with former Monster Derek Barach scoring the winner in the third period. 2020 draft pick Ole Bjorgvik-Holm earned his first AHL assist on Sherwood's goal, while Thiessen made 19 saves.
Finally, in Sunday's finale, Cleveland took another 3-0 lead then watched Texas make it 3-2, but the Monsters weren't to be denied as they finished off a 5-2 victory. AHL veteran Tyler Sikura had the first and last goals, while Evan Polei also tallied twice and Nathan Gerbe got on the board as well. Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther had four assists to tie a Monsters record, while Thiessen made 24 saves.
In personnel news, Columbus announced Cleveland's leading scorer, 21-year-old Trey Fix-Wolansky, would miss the rest of the year after knee surgery. Matiss Kivlenieks also remained out, but Andrew Peeke returned to the lineup after missing a handful of games. Foudy also was promoted to the CBJ taxi squad Sunday.
Sikura is tied for the team lead with Fix-Wolansky with nine points (4-5-9), while Meyer has a 3-5-8 line in nine games in his first pro season, Gerbe has a 3-5-8 line in 10 games, Bayreuther has eight assists in eight games, and Angle has a 4-3-7 line in six contests.
Cleveland (6-5-1) next plays Rochester on the road Saturday then hosts Grand Rapids on Saturday.
Prospects Advance in Russia
It's been a great postseason for Blue Jackets draft picks in Russia, as the maximum number of CBJ prospects who could advance to the Gagarin Cup semifinals have done so.
2020 first-round pick Yegor Chinakhov has led the way, as the player the Blue Jackets chose to the shock of the NHL last October helped key Avangard Omsk's 4-2 series win over Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Chinakhov, who had 10 goals in an injury-shortened regular season at age 20, tallied four times in the series including in the last three of Avangard's wins.
They'll battle for the Eastern Conference crown with Dmitri Voronkov and Ak Bars Kazan, which had little trouble in sweeping CBJ draft pick Daniil Tarasov and Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the second round. Voronkov, a 2019 fourth-round pick, played a part with two goals and an assist in the series. The Snow Leopards have swept both of their opening series thus far.
And on the Western Conference side, Kirill Marchenko and SKA St. Petersburg also have moved on to the conference final, downing Dynamo Moscow by a 4-1 margin. The CBJ 2018 second-round pick had one goal in the series but it was a big one, a late winner in a 1-0 victory for SKA in Game 2 of the set. SKA will play the winner of the CSKA Moscow/Lokomotiv Yaroslavl series, with Game 7 today.
The KHL conference final series are set to begin over the weekend.
College Hockey Ends for Prospects
Two CBJ draft picks in college hockey saw their teams make it to the NCAA tournament, but neither played and their teams fell short of the Frozen Four in regional play over the weekend.
Peter Thome and No. 1 overall seed North Dakota made some history in the regional final, as the team's game with Minnesota-Duluth went into the fifth overtime, making it the longest NCAA hockey game on record. Unfortunately for the Fighting Hawks, Duluth scored in the fifth OT to earn the Frozen Four bid, leaving Thome and UND heartbroken. Serving most of the year as Adam Scheel's backup, Thome played in five games with a 2.83 GAA this season.
Meanwhile, Minnesota also earned a 1 seed in its regional, but the Golden Gophers and Robbie Stucker saw their season end with a shutout in the regional final last night against Minnesota State after an opening win vs. Omaha. A defenseman chosen in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, Stucker did not dress in the postseason and had an 0-5-5 line and was plus-1 in 23 games.