Brad Thiessen has embraced role as player, coach
Monsters goalie mentor stepped in and backstopped team to postseason last yearby Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
Sometimes, life is all about being at the right place at the right time.
That was the situation in which Brad Thiessen found himself last year, but it helped that he was already in the right place.
The veteran goaltender inked a one-year deal with the Cleveland Monsters last year with a caveat - coming off an injury-plagued season, he would be counted on to do as much coaching and mentoring as playing. The Monsters were receiving 27-year-old Jean-Francois Berube and 22-year-old Matiss Kivlenieks from the Blue Jackets, so Thiessen returned for his fourth year in Cleveland as much to help bring those netminders along as to get in the crease himself.
So of course it was fitting that Thiessen ended up having the goaltending ride of his life. He played just nine times in the first five months of the season, but when Kivlenieks went through his own injury-marred season and Berube was hurt late in the year, Thiessen suddenly was the team's No. 1 goalie.
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All he did was win the final game of the season to get the Monsters into the playoffs, then backstopped the team's first-round upset of division champion Syracuse. He started the last 11 games of the regular season and all eight playoff games, posting a 1.99 goals-against average down the stretch and a 2.57 mark in the postseason.
"It was like, 'All right, you're going to play, and we'll see how far this goes,'" Thiessen said. "We caught a wave there at the end, which was a lot of fun to be able to get in the playoffs and get through a round, just kind of have that feeling again. All of a sudden it was like, 'It's your turn.'
"I think I ended up playing 19 in a row at the end last year. I don't think I've ever done that before. To be able to do that was fun, and it puts in your mind you can still do it. I'm happy to still have that opportunity again this year."
As Thiessen referred to, he has signed another one-year contract with Cleveland and will return in a similar role with the Monsters. He'll again begin the season as the No. 3 goalie, tasked with mentoring Kivlenieks as well as any other young goaltender the Blue Jackets send to Cleveland, which will likely be 22-year-old Veini Vehvilainen at the start of the year. At age 33, he's the oldest player in Blue Jackets camp, even if he's still looked like a high-level goalie when he takes the ice in practices and scrimmages.
But Thiessen knows, as he puts it, most of his race is run. At the start of the season, his biggest contribution will be taking the younger netminders under his wing and showing them what it takes to excel both on and off the ice. He'll run drills, share tips and do what he can to make the learning curve a quicker one.
"I'm there for the other two guys," Thiessen said. "It's their time. I'm there to help them try to learn the lessons that maybe I went through when I was their age and pass along different things. It's about them and where they're at in their journey and their hockey career, and anything I can do to help them, that's what I'm here for."
Blue Jackets goaltending development coach Jim Corsi, who drops in to Cleveland a few times per year, saw multiple ways that Thiessen got that job done a season ago. First, it helps the organization's young netminders in Cleveland to have a mentor who not only has done it but continues to do it, as it's easier to build a rapport with someone who is that close to the game rather than someone like Corsi who hasn't strapped on the pads in years.
"When I look at development in goaltending and in the grand scheme of things, one of the most valuable things that you can have is a veteran player that is ahead of you," Corsi said. "When you look at a guy like Thiess, he's had the difficult challenge of trying to be the better player, the typical challenges of being the second guy.
"All those parameters are there, and it lends a certain level of where players can lean on him. What happens is you have a young goaltender who is looking for the right thing that comes from the right guy. It's that veteran player who will allow you to move forward."
There was also a lesson in Thiessen's impressive showing at the end of last season that someone like Kivlenieks was able to see from up close as he served as the team's backup last postseason.
If Thiessen hadn't taken care of his business and hadn't been ready to go, the Monsters wouldn't have made the postseason let alone advanced past the first round.
"He puts in all the work so that right there is a beacon to the young guy who is saying, 'Oh jeez, I'm a young guy and I'm not getting a chance to play,'" Corsi said. "There is a beacon to the younger guy saying, 'Just keep working, keep playing, keep working your game,' so that once there's a time you're called in, you're ready to go.
"He stepped in (last postseason) and he was a legitimate No. 1 guy. That says a lot, let alone for the team but it says a lot for the guy who is behind him and says, 'Wow, so that's how you do it. You stay on task, do the work, and you will get the benefit from the work.'"
Thiessen said he's happy to still be with Cleveland, where his family including his two young children have set down roots. His goalie mask last year honored Cleveland hockey legends like Johnny Bower and Gerry Cheevers, and he's grown an appreciation for both the city and its hockey history.
There's no telling how long he'll continue to play his dual roles with the Monsters, but for now, it's a perfect situation for someone Corsi describes as "a wonderful guy."
"It's fun just to be in the NHL arena again and around the best of the best," he said of being in camp. "Even though maybe my time has gone for playing at that level, it's fun to still be able to come out here and play with them and learn from them, be around coaches, management, all that kind of stuff. Being able to pick people's brains whenever I can when they're here and take lessons from here and there you can use throughout the season."