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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Report from the Rock: Closing Time

The Newfoundland Growlers season has come to an end.

The Leafs’ ECHL affiliate squad’s quest to reclaim the Kelly Cup was halted in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Florida Everblades in five games. From the start of the series, it seemed impossible for Newfoundland to find and maintain momentum, but they battled to the bitter end and given what this team endured, ultimately ended on a successful, if bittersweet, note.

“They’ve been (battling) all season long,” said head coach Wellwood after Game 4 of the series, the Growlers’ lone win. “Anytime we’ve faced adversity, the boys stepped up. It’s so difficult to continue to have success under these circumstances, but I’m super proud of these guys.”

Adversity was a theme for the Growlers throughout their season. Before the team could even play a game at home, they had to deal with being locked out of the Mary Brown’s Centre due to a dispute between building management and team ownership. The Growlers played their first six home games at the Conception Bay South community rink. It wasn’t until game 16 on the regular season schedule that they were able to return to the Mary Brown’s Centre.

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And then COVID-19 struck.

The outbreak that brought the world nearly to a standstill in mid-December caused a number of games to be cancelled outright or postponed. When the dust settled, the Growlers played just a single game in 40 days, and then the majority of the team contracted COVID during a seven-game road trip through the central United States. And of course, the most devastating moment of adversity came at the same time as the virus infiltrating the locker room- the sudden loss of St. John’s hockey icon Chris Abbott, better known to fans as the mascot Buddy the Puffin

Series Recap

Game 1 of the series was a back-and-forth affair, Florida edged out the win 4-3 in overtime. Game 2, unfortunately the final home game for the Growlers this season, was a 2-0 loss, the first and only shutout loss of the season.

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From there the series shifted to Estero, Florida for the final three games. Zach O’Brien, the franchise points leader, exited the series due to an injury that had been nagging him since the first round after a 4-3 loss in Game 3. Game 4, the lone win for the Growlers, was a showcase of the team’s depth, a 4-1 game featuring big performances from Todd Skirving and Gordie Green.

The ever-resilent Growlers fought to the bitter end. Newfoundland’s own Tyler Boland put the team on his back in Game 5 and scored a hat trick to drag the game to overtime tied at 5, but Florida emerged victorious just a minute into overtime and put a nightcap on the Growlers’ season.

All credit to the Everblades, who played their defence-first style to perfection. The Growlers’ high-flying offense were stifled early and often throughout the series, and Cam Johnson, one of the best goalies in the ECHL this season, shut the door on the few occasions when a member of the Growlers were able to slip by the heavyweight Florida defencemen.

So what comes next for the Newfoundland Growlers? The team announced their Protected List last week, which means they will retain the signing rights to goaltender Evan Cormier, defencemen James Melindy and Garrett Johnston, and forwards Derian Plouffe, Todd Skirving, Nathan Noel, Marc Johnstone, Orrin Centazzo and Evan Neugold, though this is not a guarantee that any of those players will make a return.

What can be guaranteed is that the 2022-23 Growlers will feature a similarly heavy influx of young players on AHL contracts with the Marlies. It’s quite possible that the Growlers will have two goaltending prospects from the Leafs organization in the newly signed Luke Cavallin and Dryden McKay, but of course, this is early speculation.

And that will conclude the first full-season of Growlers coverage here at The Leafs Nation. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read these updates, and we’ll see you right back here in the fall.

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