The B’ys Are Back In Town: A Newfoundland Growlers Season Preview

A city without a team.

A passionate fanbase desperate for an outlet for their love of hockey

A new outlook on development for both young prospects and up-and-coming players.

That was the goal when Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and owner Dean Macdonald set out terms for a partnership to bring professional hockey back to St. John’s, Newfoundland. One year later, the Newfoundland Growlers were Kelly Cup Champions.

Though there were some brief reports in the summer that the Growlers could be leaving Newfoundland due to financial disputes between team ownership and the city of St. Johns, an unprecedented 10-year lease agreement was struck just in time for the season opener. Now, as the reigning champions, the Growlers will attempt to #DefendTheRock. Let’s take a closer look at your 2019-2020 Newfoundland Growlers.

The Roster

Returning to the Growlers from their championship run on this season’s opening night were three St. John’s natives in captain James Melindy, playoff MVP Zach O’Brien, and forward Marcus Power. Also returning are forwards Giorgio Estephan, Brady Ferguson, Scott Pooley, Matt Bradley, and Todd Skirving. Defencemen Garrett Johnston, Alex Gudbransson, and Evan Neugold also make a return to Newfoundland.

The full roster is as follows:

Forwards:

  • Number -Name -Age -Height -Weight -Handedness -Birthplace
  • #26 Aaron Luchuk – 22 – 5’10 – 181 lbs – Shoots R – Kingston, ON.
  • #22 Brady Ferguson – 24 – 6’0 – 194 lbs – Shoots L – Lewisville, TX.
  • #39 Colt Conrad – 22 – 5’10 – 187 lbs – Shoots R – Brandon, MB.
  • #29 Giorgio Estephan – 22 – 6’0 – 196 lbs – Shoots R – Edmonton, AB.
  • #17 Justin Brazeau – 21 – 6’6 – 225 lbs – Shoots R – New Liskeard, ON.
  • #9 Marcus Power – 26 – 6’0 – 185 lbs – Shoots L – St. John’s, NL.
  • #27 Matt Bradley – 22 – 6’0 – 190 lbs – Shoots R – Vancouver, BC.
  • #7 Reid Jackman – 26 – 6’3 – 215 lbs – Shoots L – Etobicoke, ON.
  • #13 Riley Woods – 21 – 5’10 – 181 lbs – Shoots L – Regina, SK.
  • #12 Scott Pooley – 25 – 6’2 – 201 lbs – Shoots R – Granger, IN
  • #15 Todd Skirving – 27 – 6’2 – 190 lbs – Shoots L – Thunder Bay, ON.
  • #14 Trey Bradley – 23 – 5’10 – 170 lbs – Shoots L – Tampa, FL.
  • #10 Zach O’Brien – 27 – 5’11 – 193 lbs – Shoots R – St. John’s, NL

Defense:

  • #24 Alex Gudbranson – 6’2 – 216 lbs – Shoots R – Orleans, ON.
  • #8 Evan Neugold – 6’2 – 195 lbs – Shoots R – Goshen, CT.
  • #3 Garrett Johnston – 6’2 – 190 lbs – Shoots R – Winnipeg, MB
  • #43 James Melindy – 6’3 – 197 lbs – Shoots R – St. John’s, NL
  • #21 Joseph Duszak – 5’10 – 185 lbs – Shoots R – Franklin Square, NY
  • #11 Mac Hollowell – 5’10 – 170 lbs – Shoots R – Niagara Falls, ON.
  • #36 Michael Kapla – 6’0 – 201 lbs – Shoots L – Eau Clair, WI.
  • #6 Sergei Sapego – 6’2 – 180 lbs – Shoots L – Vitebsk, Belarus
  • #4 Tommy Panico – 6’1 – 200 lbs – Shoots L – Wall, NJ.

Goalies:

  • #30 Maksim Zhukov – 20 – 6’3 – 190 lbs – Catches L – Kaliningrad, Russia
  • #35 Patrick Munson – 24 – 6’2 – 190 lbs – Catches L – Hugo, MN*
  • #35 Angus Redmond – 24 – 6’1 – 200 lbs – Catches L – Langley, BC.

(*Update: On November 4th, the Growlers waived Patrick Munson after acquiring Angus Redmond on loan from the Anaheim Ducks)

The Schedule

The Growlers will play 57 of their 72 games within their division, squaring off against the Reading Royals 14 times. They play the Brampton Beast 12 times, 9 against the Worcester Railers, and 11 against both the Maine Mariners and Adirondack Thunder. The frequency of these in-division match ups increased when the Manchester Monarchs abruptly announced they’d be ceasing operations in mid-May.

The longest homestand for Newfoundland is six games, which occurs twice, while the lengthiest stretch away from Mile One is a seven-game road trip from Nov. 20-30.

And of course, no hockey season is complete without Promotion Nights. This isn’t something that normally warrants mentioning, but longtime hockey fans both here at home and beyond may be interested to know that on December 7th, the Growlers will be paying homage to the St. John’s Maple Leafs and wearing throwback jerseys in honor of the team that started the hockey connection between Toronto and Newfoundland.

Storylines to Watch

  • Mac Hollowell and Joseph Duszak have been playing mostly as a pairing. Both saw some action with the Toronto Marlies during the postseason last spring, and though they are 2 of Toronto’s more intriguing defensive prospects, the thinking was that their development would be better served logging top 4 minutes in the majority of Newfoundland’s games, rather than bottom pairing assignments with the Marlies.
  • Justin Brazeau, Colt Conrad, and Aaron Luchuk are 3 forwards to watch:
  • Brazeau was an undrafted free agent signing who had reportedly garnered a lot of interest from other NHL teams, but he ultimately chose the Leafs, knowing he’d likely have to start in the ECHL. He’s a big body at 6’6, 226 pounds, but despite that, has explosive speed, very similar to current Leafs prospect Ilya Mikheyev. He posted 113 points (61 goals) in his final OHL season with the North Bay Battalion, and he’s only 21, definitely a prospect that may find his way to the AHL this season.
  • Luchuk is the leading scorer in the ECHL at time of writing (16 points in 10 games) while Conrad is #2 on the list of leading rookie scorers (13 points in 9 games) both of those guys will likely see some time in the AHL as well, since the Leafs want players to view the Growlers as a place to grow, rather than an exile. (Update: Luchuk and Giorgio Estephan were called up to the Marlies on November 5th.)

Season Outlook

  • Through 10 games, the Growlers have posted a 5-5 record. Their power play has 15 goals in 53 opportunities, a respectable 28%. The penalty kill has also been successful, killing 30 of 39 penalties (77%). The Growlers have scored 43 goals, tied for most in the league, on the other hand, they’ve given up 37, second most in the ECHL behind the Greenville Swam Rabbits.
  • Goaltending has been an issue early on, the rookie Zhukov has played the majority, posting an .843 SV% in 7 starts as he adjusts to his first year playing professional hockey. Redmond has not suited up since being acquired. With the added emphasis on using the Growlers as a place for development, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of Toronto’s high-profile goaltending prospects, Ian Scott or Joseph Woll, assigned to the Growlers to get some crucial time in professional games as a starter. Scott has been sidelined with an injury dating back to Leafs training camp, I’d expect him to be the first to make an appearance with the team, once he’s healed.
  • Overall, much like last year, the Growlers have a young, exciting, fast-paced team, with many Leafs projects and prospects to keep an eye on. Many other teams in the league are starting to adapt to the ‘Growler model’ of placing prospects with potential in a position to succeed, but not all of them have caught up yet. It’s too early to tell exactly how the season will play out, but one thing is clear: The Growlers are primed for success in both this current season and beyond.

*Player and schedule information from nlgrowlers.com.

*Supplemental stats and information from echl.com and hockeydb.com.

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