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UPDATE #2: Newfoundland Growlers will NOT play in Toronto; renting ice in Conception Bay

The home opener scheduled for November 5 now has no home.

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold their prospects development camp Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Today the Mayor of St. John’s announced that the Newfoundland Growlers, ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will not be allowed to play their home games in their usual arena, pending an investigation.

The city, though an entity called St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, owns and manages the arena that has been home to the Growlers since their inception.

In a press release issued by the City of St. John’s on Wednesday morning, Oct. 27, mayor Danny Breen explained that employees of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (SJSE), “have brought forward allegations of disrespectful workplace conduct against staff at DSE that must be fully investigated.”

No details have been released beyond the statement that access to the arena is suspended. While the Growlers are owned by Dean MacDonald of Deacon Sports and Entertainment, the Maple Leafs’ Ryan Hardy is the GM of the Marlies and the Growlers, and Laurence Gilman, AGM of the Leafs, is the official ECHL governor for the Growlers.

UPDATE #1

Gilman announced in a statement that the Growlers will leave Newfoundland and play at Coca-Cola Coliseum for the time being.

The Growlers have a six-game homestand from Nov 5th to Nov 14th. Funnily enough, the Marlies are on the road during the exact same time period (Nov 5th to 14th). December 4th is the first game where there will be an overlap in home games for the Marlies and Growlers. So the Growlers and Leafs have time to work with.

Previously the Growlers announced they were unable to sell tickets to the home games, their first games since the spring of 2020. The Growlers did not participate in the 2020-2021 season.

This comes after a period of protracted disagreement between MacDonald and SJSE over the management of the arena and the future of the Growlers. Deacon owns the new Canadiens ECHL franchise in Trois-Rivières and the new team in Iowa, the affiliate of the Wild. Deacon tried to make a deal to manage the Mile One Centre (soon to be renamed to a new corporate sponsor) in St. John’s but that fell through.

MacDonald made headlines this week as he Tweeted out hints while visiting his other teams that he was planning to build a new arena in St. John’s and move the team there.

To that end, Deacon is planning the construction of its own arena complex in the metro St. John’s area. Without revealing any specifics, a source outside the organization says “this is a lot further along than most people realize.”

At this time the nature of the workplace conduct under investigation is not known. The city has provided no timeline for a resolution.

It appears that the Growlers will need an alternate venue for their season, at least to start. Previous Leafs/Marlies/Growlers training camps have used rinks in Mount Pearl and Paradise for events, so expect the Growlers to not go very far.

UPDATE #2

Today, the Newfoundland Growlers announced that they will not be playing in Toronto after all, but will instead play their first six games at the Conception Bay South Arena in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. The new home is much closer than Toronto, only 20 minutes from the Mary Brown Centre, across the peninsula from St. John’s.

A gracious opportunity to keep the Growlers in Newfoundland, was presented to the organization by the Town of Conception Bay South this week, and Deacon Sports and Entertainment is proud to work with the town to keep ECHL hockey in the region as they continue to navigate the ongoing situation with the Mary Brown’s Centre.

“We are very pleased to provide the Growlers organization with an opportunity to play their first six games in Conception Bay South and be the site for their temporary ‘home-away-from-home’ opening series,” said Conception Bay South Mayor, Darren Bent. “As one of the Province’s most attractive locations for day trips, the Town of Conception Bay South will give them a warm reception and make their stay with us an experience they will never forget, as we would do for all our visitors.”

This smaller move will mean the opponents will not have to make changes to their travel schedules, aside from a longer bus ride from the airport.

The Conception Bay South Arena opened in 2016 and can hold just over 1,000 people.

Alongside this news, today the Growlers announced that they are filing a notice of default on their lease with the Mary Browns Centre and city of St. John’s.

DSE has been penalized without procedural fairness. There was simply no legal mechanism for SJSEL to suspend the current lease agreement and bar DSE from Mary Browns Centre.

DSE unequivocally denies any breach of the Safe Workplace Agreement and questions the motivation for such drastic decision-making. DSE management sought action from SJSEL to fulfill obligations required under the current lease agreement, however, respectful advocacy for accountability should not be confused with inappropriate workplace conduct. DSE has reason to believe that the outstanding operational deficiencies would have prevented SJSEL to fulfill the obligations of opening night for the Growlers on November 5, 2021.

We’ll keep you informed as this story develops.