Just like the NHL and the AHL, the race to the playoffs is in full swing in the ECHL. Games are ramping up in intensity and the Newfoundland Growlers are rounding into their final form.
The team has posted a 5-4 record since our last update and through 48 games have a 29-16-3 record. The Growlers sit at 2nd in the ECHL’s North Division (4th overall in the league standings) behind only the Reading Royals. There are 20 games remaining in the regular season, and the start of the playoffs is rapidly approaching.
Beyond the playoff push, the biggest storyline around the Growlers right now is the arrival of Pavel Gogolev. After an initial game where he was described by coach Eric Wellwood as “disengaged,” he has stepped up and become invaluable to the team in the absence of all three of the Growlers’ usual top line players, (Orrin Centazzo and Marcus Power, currently injured, and Zach O’Brien, recalled to Toronto by the Marlies,) Gogolev has six points through four games, including this beautiful first ECHL goal:
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“Gogo is a guy I’ve wanted to coach for a long time, going back to the OHL,” said Wellwood. “He’s such a high-end player and a guy that, in my mind, shouldn’t really be in this league. I think he’s a player that has some real NHL potential. You see what he does out there, he’s so skilled, I mean, if he gets a shot in the slot, it’s going in the net.”
Ben Finkelstein is another member of this Growlers squad who’s embraced the opportunity given to him since arriving from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. In 20 games with Newfoundland, the 24-year-old right-shooting defenceman has 30 points, (five goals,) anchoring the top defense pair for most of his tenure so far.
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Rounding out the player spotlight are a couple of fan favourites in Todd Skirving and Tyler Boland. Skirving, in his third tour of duty with Newfoundland, is having a career year, with 28 points (15 goals) in 43 games played. The scoring burst happened suddenly, going back to Feb. 23rd, 8 games ago, Skirving has potted nine goals, including his first professional hat trick, leading to his teammates bestowing the nickname “Skirvechkin” on him.
Boland, meanwhile, is a new member of the team, recently assigned to the Growlers from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. He’s a local to St. John’s and made his debut on the same night as Gogolev, making an immediate impact by scoring his first professional goal and assisting on two other tallies to earn First Star of the night honours. Since that inaugural game, he and Gogolev have been linemates on the top unit for the Growlers and are showing signs of fast-developing chemistry.
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For local fans, the team will be hosting a number of promotion nights during the remaining home games, starting this Friday (Mar. 11) with the St. Patrick’s Day game, where the Growlers will wear special St. Pat’s inspired jerseys.
Other promotion nights include the annual Underwear Drop on Mar. 12, (fans are encouraged to bring packages of new socks and underwear to throw on the ice during the first intermission as donations to The Gathering Place,) Leafs Night and Marvel Night on Apr. 2 and 3 respectively, and on the final home game before playoffs, Apr. 10, the team will be celebrating 30 years of professional hockey in Newfoundland. More details on that event will be announced in a few weeks.
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Newfoundland’s current homestand concludes this weekend with a three-in-three against the Trois-Rivieres Lions (Montreal’s ECHL affiliate). Tempers have flared over between these teams in recent weeks, including a 10-3 Growlers win on Feb. 27 that featured 129 total penalty minutes dealt out by the officials and resulted in four members of the Lions getting fined or suspended.
As far as the standings sit right now, the likely matchup for the Growlers in round one of the 2022 Kelly Cup Playoffs will be against the Lions, so this weekend’s series serves an extra purpose as a potential playoff preview.
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