In their first year, the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL have made history by capturing the Kelly Cup, the first pro sports title for a team in provincial history
June. Not a time you think of things like ice and helmets and rubber pucks. No, this is summertime, the long evenings where rowers ready for the Regatta and groups of guys and gals island-wide assemble their beer league softball clubs. It’s June 4th, and Mile One Centre in St. John’s is packed to the rafters with cheering hockey fans – hockey fans in a defiantly hockey town – willing their first year club to the promise-land.
No, it can’t really be quantified or equated and drafted in meaningful prose the sights and sounds and goosebumps inducing feel of the night of June 4th, 2019, but it’s a night that will go down in the history books. Newfoundland and Labrador captured its first ever professional sports title and did so on the backs of a first year club of rookies, veterans and four feisty Newfoundlanders. It was as improbable a Cinderella story as you could read, all entirely too convenient. But sometimes, happy endings are just what is required and exactly what is deserved.
An mvp performance
The Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL won the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs, running the table and besting the Brampton Beast, Manchester Monarchs, and Florida Everblades on their way to a six game series win against the Toledo Walleye at home in St. John’s.
They did it all backstopped by B.C. native Martin Garteig, who played every one of the clubs 23 playoff games with a sparkling 2.19 goals against average and .928 save percentage, and the playoff MVP, St. John’s native Zach O’Brien, who potted 16 goals on his way to 29 points, a 2019 playoff best.
Yes, output was plentiful for the Growlers. In the series clinching sixth game, 22 year old Edmonton native Giorgio Estephan scored two goals and added an assist for a three point night. Josh Kestner – injured during the Conference Finals – and iron man Matt Bradley posted a goal apiece in the 4-3 victory that saw the club stave off a 3rd period rally from the Walleye.
It was a win that capped off a season with many stories. Of the entrance and mid-season exit of head coach, NHL veteran and Fermeuse native Ryane Clowe, who was succeeded by fellow Newfoundlander John Snowden, a Kelly Cup winner in his debut year as head coach. Of the playoff brilliance of Garteig, who struggled at times throughout the season, posting a 2.72 GAA and surrendering 19 starts to 25 year old Eamon McAdam. Of the return of NHL veteran and Bonavista’s own Adam Pardy, who looked to bring a league title to his home province during the twilight of his career, the perfect swan song.
And in a season where fan attendance wavered and armchair quarterbacks debated St. John’s status as a ‘hockey town’, the fans showed up, ranted n’ roared, and in turn were rewarded with a pro-title, something that alluded the St. John’s Maple Leafs, Fog Devils, two brands of IceCaps and fell short for the St. John’s Edge two years running.
When Goulds native and proud and scrappy captain James Melindy hoisted the Kelly Cup, you could make claim that the roar from the packed barn could be heard at the lighthouse in Cape Spear.
It was a moment, arguably, that could be considered bigger than sports. It had that watershed feeling, one of arrival, one of promises fallen through at long last answered, one of high hopes, expectations and dreams being realized. Hockey fans in Newfoundland and Labrador waited long and hard, through crumbled franchises, bitter disputes and failed bids at glory, for June 4th. And it was done with sandpaper grit and a relentless perseverance against the improbable, in typical homegrown fashion.
Ode to Newfoundland
It was a moment for Newfoundland, a moment where a team coached and captained by our proud sons, a franchise staffed with hardworking salt of the earth locals – from those in the forefront to the unsung heroes – all in a building brimming with loud and proud Newfoundland pride that echoed from Chris Andrews’ rendition of Ode to Newfoundland through the faint echoes of the final notes of Heave Away, as the masses filed out into the evening air.
It was moment, and a night, that defined the season-long slogan of the team: Stand Proud.
*Jeff Parsons Photos