Pro hockey is back in St. John’s

The Newfoundland Growlers are ready to take the ice.

MileOneCentre GrowlersStadium
Pro hockey is back at Mile One Centre. The Newfoundland Growlers kick off their inaugural season on the rock on October 12. Alex Kennedy/Kicker

Alex Kennedy
Kicker

The Newfoundland Growlers are preparing to stand on guard for Mile One Centre, as they kick off their season this Friday.

The Growlers start their inaugural season in the East Coast Hockey League at home on Oct. 12, when they face off against the Florida Everblades. They will serve as the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Growlers played three games leading up to the regular as part of a provincial preseason tour, with stops in Corner Brook, Stephenville and Clarenville.

Chris Ballard, the voice of the Growlers this season, called all three games. He says the support from fans outside of St. John’s was a great sign.

“The crowd came out in droves for us,” said Ballard. “Nice and loud, made for a great atmosphere.”

The Newfoundland Growlers are the third professional hockey team to call St. John’s home. The AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs called the city home from 1991-2005 followed by the Ice Caps from 2011-2017 and this season will see St. John’s become the home to the Growlers of ECHL.

These departures and the arrival of a lower tier hockey team has left a sour taste in the mouths of some hockey fans. But, Ballard is quick to defend the new kids on the block.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions I think of what the ECHL was or used to be,” said Ballard. “Come out and see it for yourself. It’s really not too far a departure from the American (Hockey) League in terms of quality of play … it’s good hockey, you know?”

“I’m looking forward to seeing Newfoundlanders back on the ice and behind the bench and definitely looking forward to having hockey to keep track of in our city.”

One of the major draws this season is local content. Five Newfoundlanders played in the preseason for the Growlers highlighted by Bonavista’s Adam Pardy and St. John’s native Zach O’Brien. Fermuse native and NHL veteran, Ryane Clowe, is also the team’s head coach.

St. John’s hockey superfan, Hayley Redmond, says it’s one of the things she’s looking forward to the most this season.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Newfoundlanders back on the ice and behind the bench and definitely looking forward to having hockey to keep track of in our city.”

The Growlers serving as an affiliate of the Maple Leafs is also exciting fans. Greg Hodder is a Leafs enthusiast and says seeing Toronto’s future potential stars will be a cool sight.

“St. John’s was previously home for the AHL affiliate of the Leafs so there are a lot of Leafs fans on the rock just because of that,” said Hodder. “There should definitely be a strong support system.”

“We have a really young team which I think is going to work in our favour … I really think we could be running three full lines of guys who can get it done.”

Like their NHL affiliate, the Growlers are a young team. Many players are entering their first year of professional hockey. The average age of the team is just 24. Ballard says this could serve as a great advantage for this coming season.

“We have a really young team which I think is going to work in our favour,” said Ballard. “With 10 [forwards] on an average basis, any one of those guys could be your number one line.”

It is safe to say St. John’s hockey fans won’t see a season like the Vegas Golden Knights, who dominated the league and made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. However, Ballard says a big result might not be out of the picture.

“I truly do believe, and this is not me trying to spin anything here, the sky is truly the limit for this team,” said Ballard. “I think there is certainly a universe not too far from here [where] the Growlers hit the ground running in their first season.”

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