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Growlers talk: What’s up in Newfoundland?

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The Growlers are hosting a host of NHL-contracted players. How is that working out?

Toronto Maple Leafs Headshots Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

We have not talked about the Newfoundland Growlers at all since the training camp rosters were finalized. Just to get our facts straight, the Growlers are the ECHL affiliate of the Leafs, but aren’t owned by the Leafs. They play in Mile One Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland, former home of the IceCaps and the St. John’s Maple Leafs, both of the AHL.

The Growlers have faced a lot of challenges, now in their second season. They’ve had to convince an audience used to AHL hockey that that ECHL variety is worth watching, and they did that in the most exciting possible way by winning the Kelly Cup last year. But selling tickets to games hasn’t been easy.

The two top-selling teams in the ECHL in 2018-2019 were the Fort Wayne Komets and the Toledo Walleye (the runners up for the Cup) at just under 8,000 seats sold on average at a home game. These small American cities are the natural home of ECHL hockey, and some of the teams are successful at it, and some aren’t. There’s been more teams come and go at this level than in the AHL in the last few years.

The new-ish Jacksonville Icemen were third in attendance last year, and they’re doing really well this year. The brand-new Growlers were way down the list with only 3,784 seats filled on average. That’s still much better than the struggling Brampton Beast, who are trying to deliver ECHL hockey in a much more saturated market.

So far, this season, the defending champion Growlers are at 4,265 seats filled, a welcome increase after they signed a long-term lease deal for Mile One a few weeks ago. The arena has a reported capacity of 7,000, though, so they have a long way to go to fill it up.

In the AHL, more of the bills are covered by the NHL team which either owns them outright, or partially, or at the very least, pays the freight on a lot of their players. Selling tickets can be less of a concern. The Growlers, this season, for the first time, have multiple players on NHL contracts, and the Maple Leafs cover an undisclosed portion of the operating costs, which includes some kind of method of compensating visiting teams for their airfare to get there.

Let’s get to know this year’s Growlers team.

Newfoundland Growlers Roster November, 2019

Number Name Position Height Weight Shoots Contract Age
Number Name Position Height Weight Shoots Contract Age
7 Reid Jackman F 6-3 215 L ECHL 26
9 Marcus Power F 6-0 185 L AHL 26
12 Scott Pooley F 6-2 201 R AHL 25
13 Riley Woods F 5-10 181 L AHL 21
14 Trey Bradley F 5-10 170 L AHL 23
15 Todd Skirving F 6-2 190 L ECHL 27
17 Justin Brazeau F 6-6 225 R AHL 21
22 Brady Ferguson F 6-0 194 L AHL 25
26 Aaron Luchuk C 5-10 181 L NHL 22
27 Matt Bradley F 6-0 190 R AHL 22
29 Giorgio Estephan F 6-0 196 R AHL 22
39 Colt Conrad F 5-10 180 R AHL 22
3 Garrett Johnston D 6-2 190 R ECHL 24
4 Tommy Panico D 6-1 200 L ECHL 24
6 Sergei Sapego D 6-2 180 L AHL 20
8 Evan Neugold D 6-2 195 R ECHL 27
11 Mac Hollowell D 5-10 170 R NHL 21
21 Joseph Duszak D 5-10 185 R NHL 22
24 Alex Gudbranson D 6-2 216 R AHL 25
36 Michael Kapla D 6-0 201 L AHL 25
43 James Melindy D 6-3 197 R ECHL 25
30 Maksim Zhukov G 6-3 187 L AHL 20
35 Patrick Munson G 6-2 190 L ECHL 24

The Growlers are doing well this year, but without their expected NHL-prospect goalie with Ian Scott still injured, they’ve been working with the very young Maksim Zhukov and the former NCAA and British league goalie Patrick Munson. They aren’t the same level as last year’s hero Micheal Garteig (who is doing great in Finland).

This year’s Growlers sit at third in their division by points, but only have a .500 points percentage, which is fourth in the division and 16th of 26 teams league-wide. The ECHL starts after the NHL and AHL, though, so they’ve only played 10 games. They have lots of time to make up for the dull start.

They aren’t dull offensively, as they lead the league in goals with 43, but they’re the third worst in goals against. Does this all sound really familiar to you? Anyway, bear that in mind, that players on a hot team score a lot of goals sometimes because they’re good, and sometimes because they’re on a hot team.

The Growlers are led so far this season by the former OHL scoring champion. No, not that one, the other one. Aaron Luchuk, an under the radar addition from the Ottawa Senators in the Ceci for Zaitsev trade, led the OHL in points in 2017-2018. He’s one of three players on the team on an NHL contract, which might not be a record for the ECHL, but is very, very unusual, considering none of them are goalies. Luchuk doesn’t just lead the team, he’s leading the whole league with five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.

Fifth in the ECHL is Giorgio Estephan with 13 points, sixth is Colt Conrad with 13 and 14th is Scott Pooley with 10. They spread the scoring around on this team. The player with only four points, Zach O’Brien, is the one getting the call up to the Marlies however. He’s been showing up on the fourth line in Toronto while the Marlies have some injuries.

Joey Duszak leads the Growlers defenders in points with nine in eight games and Mac Hollowel is also doing fine points-wise with five.

So far, the super hot start for Luchuk and the repeat performance from Estephan have to have those two as likely callups to the Marlies at some point. The defence prospects will have a tougher time cracking a roster over-supplied with defence again this year, so it’s understandable that NHL-contracted Duszak and Hollowell are in the ECHL and getting ice time. It’s just not clear how much that’s going to help them develop. The ECHL is still a check first, ask questions later league, and it isn’t noted for its defence. I’m imagining Garteig is amazed at the difference between the E and the Liiga on that score.

The Growlers either need Zhukov to suddenly vault up into the top of the ECHL goalie ranks, instead of the bottom where he is so far, or they need to make a roster addition. From the most recent comments out of the Marlies, it doesn’t sound like Scott is going to be ready soon.

The Growlers can score like no one else in the ECHL. Get them a goalie, and they might repeat as champions. For now, everything that can go well, seems to be.