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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Report from the Rock: End of the regular season, now the fun begins

The regular season came to an end for the Newfoundland Growlers on April 17 in a 5-0 victory over the Adirondack Thunder. The Maple Leafs’ ECHL affiliate team ends of the 2021-22 regular season with a 42-20-5 record, good for 89 points on the league standings and securing the team 2nd place in the North Division.

All eyes now turn to the beginning of the playoffs on Friday night, where the Growlers’ first round opponent will be the only other Canadian team in the ECHL, and the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, the Trois-Rivieres Lions.

The Growlers and the Lions played 14 times in the regular season and Newfoundland holds the overwhelming edge with a 10-3-1 record. Keith Petruzzelli, who will likely be the starter in goal for the series, played 9 of the 14 games against the Lions in-season and emerged with a 7-2 record. Petruzzelli, it should be noted, was also named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team.

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To shine a spotlight on some skaters, forward Zach O’Brien ended the regular season with 78 points, a franchise record, beating his own previous record by 10 points in the same number of games played (53). O’Brien was 2nd overall in league scoring behind the Fort Wayne Komets’ Will Graber, who had 83 points in 59 GP. O’Brien’s 28 goals was tied with rookie Orrin Centazzo for the team lead.

“It’s a healthy battle, but I don’t look at it as though it’s a competition between them” said head coach Eric Wellwood, noting that the two star forwards play on a line together most of the time and “still pass to each other.”

O’Brien was also awarded the ECHL Sportsmanship Award. Per a league press release: “The award is presented annually to the player who is judged to have exhibited the best sportsmanship combined with a high standard of playing ability.” O’Brien is just the third player in ECHL history to win this award a second time, as he was also awarded it in the Growlers’ first season in the league in 2018-19. O’Brien has a total of 18 penalty minutes in the regular season in 147 games with the Growlers.

On defence, Ben Finkelstein put up an astonishing 62 points in only 36 games played. He led the league in scoring by a defender, while playing in the fewest games of any member of the top 10 and posting the highest plus-minus stat. Noel Hoefenmayer, 11th in league scoring by a defenceman, led the Growler’s blueline in goals with 13 in 46 games.

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Rounding out the list of standout players, the aforementioned Centazzo put up an impressive 51 points in his first season of pro hockey. Journeyman Todd Skirving reached a career-high 21 goals and 41 points in 60 games played. Second year pro Jeremy McKenna hit the 20 goal mark in the final game of the season (44 points total in 43 games) and top-6 staple Gordie Green scored 47 points in 57 games.

“I think it’s Welly’s style of play, being a more offensive style team and having the leeway to do more out there, have some fun” said Skirving on the source of his scoring outburst this season.

The first two games of the Growlers’ battle in the Kelly Cup Playoffs are this weekend, April 22 and 23.

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