First published April, 2022
Glenn Stanford reflects on his 30 year involvement with professional hockey in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador
When Glenn Stanford stood on the ice at the Mary Brown’s Centre at the Growers Game against the Cincinnati Cyclones in early April, he drew a standing ovation.
Stanford, currently the Governor and Chief Operating Officer of the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL, has been called everything from “the glue” to “the heart” of any and all hockey franchises that have called this province home and has been labeled “the reason why” there’s been professional hockey played in Newfoundland for over thirty years.
Stanford’s hockey career began as a high level administrator and organizer as the Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador High School Athletic Federation and continued when he became the manager of the St. John’s Memorial Stadium.
Stanford has been named the top CEO with the American Hockey League twice – one of only four people in the history of the league to twice earn the honor. Stanford has earned praise from past politicians (former premier Danny Williams is one) and former players (like Adam Pardy) as he led the extremely successful St. John’s IceCaps and St. John’s Maple Leafs hockey operations in the American Hockey League. Danny Williams has said Standford’s leadership played a major role in the IceCaps recording 127 consecutive sell-out crowds at Mile One.
‘He’s a gentleman’
With awards that include the 2005 Thomas Ebight Award for career contributions to the AHL, 2004 Special Olympics Sports Celebrities Festival National Volunteer of the Year and selection as one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEOs, Stanford has more than earned his place in hockey history in NL. But talk to anyone who knows the man and they will simply say, “he’s a gentleman,” and it’s been his reputation that Stanford has relied on over the past 30 years.
What started his passion for pro hockey? The fact that it wasn’t here, he said. “I ended up managing (Memorial) stadium in 1996, and one of the things I realized was that they never had a tenant in the building,” the former teacher said.
He began exploring the possibility of housing an American Hockey League franchise. With guts and grit, the St. John’s Maple Leafs settled in.
“We sold out in Memorial Stadium, but that only had 2,500 capacity, but then in 2011 with the IceCaps at Mile One, we had sell out after sell out in a much bigger space.”
‘30 years of success’
While many say that Standford is the reason pro hockey’s here, he’s quick to share the praise with others.
“In 2011, Danny (Williams) came back (to hockey) and then Dean (MacDonald) got involved, so there wouldn’t be hockey without their support, but if you’re really going to point the finger in a good way to why we are successful here that finger has got to be pointed towards the fans because they’re the ones that stuck it out and they’re the ones that supported hockey over the years. You can have a good product on the ice and you can have a league and you can be competitive on the ice, but if you don’t have fans you’re not going to be successful.”
There’s been a core group of fans that have been with the sport for 30 years, he added. “Many of our corporate partners have been with us for that whole time, too. The reason why we’re successful is simply the fans and corporate partners.”
It hasn’t always been easy. The realities of the geography has been challenging for one thing, he said. “Obviously no disrespect, it’s tough to attract people to come to the province simply because of the travel. We’re an island. The weather is not great. With those things in mind, we took the philosophy early on that we’re going to treat this team and this organization as best we can.” They focused on every detail, from food to lodgings, and they did their best to attract the best. Word soon got around that this province was the place to be.
‘One of our own’
“Word spread that if you come to St. John’s, you’re going to be well taken care of. The fans are going to support the team. There’ll be good coaches and development opportunities with the Toronto Maple Leafs and that attracted players to come here.”
Fans of these game began “treating come from away players like one of their own, even though they might be from Ontario or from the states,” he said.
“When someone plays for that Newfoundland Growlers team, our fans treat them like one of our own and take care of them. Fans embraced the parents of the players, they take them out for fish and chips or out sightseeing. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. That’s the culture that we have developed over a number of years.”
Fans of the game are part of the Growlers Nation (join the fans on the Facebook page, Growlers Nation) and “People know, you come here, it’s a special place with a special group of people and you’re going to be taken care of.”
Stanford has a special relationship with the players too. Many of the NL contingent, like Marcus Power, James Melindy, Zach O’Brien, Nathan Noel and Tyler Boland, have developed an enduring bond with Stanford.
“They are great players and great young men. But what’s really cool about the whole idea of having Newfoundland players is that we’re not just having Newfoundland players for the sake of having local players … What’s really cool about all of our Newfoundland players on our team is they make an unbelievable contribution to the team and they have made a big contribution to our overall success.”
As the father of two daughters, Stanford is also proud of the role women have taken within the league, he added. The team earned headlines for having the first female coach in the history of the ECHL when Danielle Goyette stepped in to help when coach Eric Wellwood had COVID.
“Having females involved in the game at all levels, from coaching to assistant general managers, is a good thing. And this year Kelly-Anne Roberts became the first full-time female colour commentator in ECHL history. That speaks well for our game, that speaks well for us as an organization and hopefully where we are league leaders when it comes to that. Personally, I’m married, I have two daughters and I have two granddaughters and what we’ve done speaks well for the future of the game and that’s the way it should be.”
Focusing on the game itself, Stanford is proud of the team’s standings and hopeful for the playoffs. “Obviously we hope our team wins on the ice, but we don’t control the outcome from the office. The players and the coaches do a wonderful job of making sure our team is competitive on the ice. The other part of that for us is the entertainment value so when people come down to the games, not only are they entertained by what’s happening on the ice, but they’re also entertained when the puck isn’t in play.”
He loves hearing fans as they exit a game saying that “it was fun.”
‘A critical time’
Speaking about current franchise owner Dean MacDonald, Stanford paused.
“Dean came in at a critical time. The IceCaps had moved on, the American Hockey League had moved on, simply because of the geography – we were an island out in the middle of eastern Canada. Then Dean came on board because he felt that there was a need for hockey in the community. And he’s a successful business person in this community and then legitimately wanted to try to give something back.”
The last four years have not been easy, he admitted. “In the last two years, almost every business has struggled but to his credit, through trying times and troubling times, he stayed with it. He’s doing what he’s doing for all the right reasons. He wasn’t getting rich off hockey, let’s just say that.”
The charity piece is huge, he added. From Growlers Give to the Growlers Academy, to the time the players themselves donate to so many causes, it’s been a feel-good time to be in the organization, he said. “Hockey has made an enormous contribution financial, millions of dollars over the 30 years has gone back to the community.”
People like the late Murray Chaplin who sold 50/50 tickets at the games was one.
“Buddy appearances, hospital visits, the player appearances, shovelling during Snowmageddon. The list just goes on and on and on. I think that’s one of the best benefits of having a pro sports team. Yes, it’s on wheels in the stadium at game time, but I think hockey is a great asset to the community in so many ways.”
Buddy the Puffin
The conversation turns towards the loss of Chris Abbott, the man behind the team’s mascot, Buddy the Puffin.
“We were lucky when Chris became involved and Chris, as Buddy, became the face of our franchise. The kids might know the players names, but they knew Buddy. Everybody in Newfoundland knew Buddy and he was putting smiles on people’s faces at the games, not only kids, but a lot of adults, too. He became the face of our team and the face of our organization.
“Chris was going beyond what was expected, and he’s done everything over the years. There was a Mission Impossible opening ceremony in one of the games and he propelled from ceiling. He put so much effort into Buddy and he took so much pride in Buddy. I never heard that he turned down a request.”
There’s hundreds of stories, and so many treasured memories, he added.
Stanford has taken time to reflect, he said, and now at the 30 year mark, he can say that “it’s been a ride.”
“I don’t see myself as the face of the organization even though I’ve been around for 30 years, because longevity doesn’t necessarily mean anything. And although people might like to thank me for being around 30 years, it’s the volunteers. It’s the staff at the Mary Brown’s Centre, the officials and the volunteer staff. It’s the season ticket holders, the fans. It’s the corporate partners…”
The list goes on. “Looking back, it’s been amazing and people shouldn’t be thanking me. It’s really me who should be saying thank you. So thank you.”
(Posted May 1st, 2022. The Growlers are currently in the playoffs for the Kelly Cup. For tickets and info visit /https://www.nlgrowlers.com/#tab_statistics-players-leaders=forwards