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Maple Leafs’ ECHL affiliate Newfoundland Growlers ceasing operation

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Photo credit:NLGrowlers / Twitter
Michael Mazzei
2 months ago
The Leafs will be without an ECHL affiliate for the rest of the season as the Newfoundland Growlers have ceased operations effective immediately.
This comes after a report from Elliotte Friedman over the weekend on Saturday Headlines where he said team owners Deacon Sports and Entertainment were behind on payments and were given an ultimatum of April 2nd to find a new owner or lose the team entirely.
The other team impacted by this was the Trois-Rivieres Lions, the ECHL affiliate of the Canadiens, who were able to find a new buyer pending a vote by the league. The Growlers were unsuccessful in their attempts to secure new ownership in time so their season comes to a premature end.
“We are saddened to lose ECHL hockey in the Newfoundland market,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin in a statement released by the league about the folding. “We’d like to thank the Growlers fans and partners for their support of the team throughout their existence, and are hopeful that hockey can return to the region for their dedicated and passionate fanbase.”
As a result of this news, any player on the roster who was signed to an ECHL contract is now a free agent and other teams are not eligible to sign more than two players from the Growlers.
Players on the roster who were signed to AHL/NHL deals and on the roster after 11:59 p.m. EST on March 20th are not eligible to play in the ECHL for the remainder of the season. There are 12 players impacted by this who must now report to the Marlies, including Vyacheslav Peksa, Dryden McKay, and Nolan Dillingham.
“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to our fans, sponsors, partners, staff, and the hundreds of players who have proudly represented the Growlers, whose unwavering resilience and support has been instrumental to our on-ice product,” the team said in a statement. “Deacon Sports and Entertainment extends sincere gratitude to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens for their support over the past six seasons.”
It’s a matter of when, not if, the Leafs will get another ECHL affiliate to begin play for the 2024-25 season and beyond. Where exactly that team will be located is not clear at this time but it would not be shocking if they decided to add a team closer to them. No doubt this will be a big blow to the city and province given the long history the Leafs have with both, but given the logistical challenges that come with flying players over from Newfoundland to Ontario, this might be a decision they prefer over attempting the market once again. The city of Mississauga will have a void left behind in hockey when the Steelheads move to Brampton next year, so perhaps that could be an option for MLSE.
The Growlers had quite the memorable run despite only getting to play in five seasons. Their inaugural campaign saw them capture the Kelly Cup and all three times they qualified for the playoffs saw them get to the third round or better. The only times they didn’t were because of the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 playoffs, the 2020-21 season not happening, and them folding before the end of the 2023-24 campaign.
A total of seven Growlers alumni went on to play in the NHL, including Bobby McMann, Timothy Liljegren, Mac Hollowell, Kristians Rubins, and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. They got a former first-round pick and beloved actor Terry Ryan to play in the final game of his professional hockey career during this season.
It was not all sunshine and rainbows as the franchise was mired in an arena dispute with the city of St. Johns due to a lease agreement not being signed when they tried to buy the St. Johns Edge of the NBL Canada. Allegations of workplace harassment resulted in the team being evicted from the Mary Brown’s Centre for the first six games of the 2021-22 season before an agreement was reached in late November to finish out the season in Newfoundland.
The Growlers had six games remaining which have now been cancelled, resulting in them finishing their final season with a record of 28-28-8-2.  All-time, they had a regular season record of 203-108-18-8 along with eight playoff series wins and just two losses (both at the hands of the Florida Everblades) throughout their five-year existence.

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