This hockey team is going to the dogs.
As first reported in The Telegram last month, the new ECHL team which will start play at Mile One Centre next October will be named the Newfoundland Growlers.
What was revealed for the first time, however, Tuesday morning at The Rooms was the new team’s logo, which will be that of a front-on view of a Newfoundland dog’s head.
There was no actual jersey at Tuesday’s news conference as the final touches are still being completed by CCM and Deacon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Growlers. But the colour scheme will be primarily black and off-white cream, the latter the same colour of the St. John’s IceCaps’ Royal Newfoundland Regiment third jerseys from a couple of the years ago.
The ECHL team will have an affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs — something that still needs to be formally announced — but the NHL team’s logo will not appear on the ECHL jerseys.
Aside from the actual announcement in March that a team based out Mile One Centre was joining the league, Tuesday’s gathering at The Rooms was the first official get-together surrounding the ECHL expansion franchise, which replaces the American Hockey League entries which had been prominent in St. John’s for 20 years.
The AHL’s IceCaps dissolved following the 2016-17 hockey season when the Montreal Canadiens, which owned the minor league team, relocated their farm-team operations to Laval, Que.
And that’s the big difference with the American league and the ECHL, which is moving into Eastern Canada for the first time in its history.
The Growlers are locally owned, headed up by Dean MacDonald of Deacon Investments, and Glenn Stanford, who was the IceCaps’ chief operating officer for six years and president of the St. John’s Maple Leafs during their 14-year tenure in the city.
Stanford is familiar with the ECHL, having spent two years as president and CEO of the Idaho Steelheads after the AHL Maple Leafs relocated to Toronto, where they became the Marlies.
Now that the new team officially has a name, things will start kicking into high gear as the Maple Leafs organization — with input from the Growlers, mainly Stanford — will start the process of hiring coaching, training and equipment staffs next week.
ECHL teams can start signing players in mid-June, and at that point, the Growlers’ roster should start coming together.
"There have been a lot of Newfoundlanders out there who have contacted Toronto. And we’ve identified some (players) out there in the ECHL right now, in the AHL and the potential for some coming out of junior ranks.”
Newfoundland Growlers CEO Glen Stanford
Stanford said the team will “absolutely” be looking at a Newfoundland presence in its lineup.
“I don’t think there’s any specific number we’re considering,” he said. “There have been a lot of Newfoundlanders out there who have contacted Toronto. And we’ve identified some that are out there in the ECHL right now, in the AHL and the potential for some coming out of junior ranks.
“That’s something we’ll go over with Toronto in next two or three weeks.”
Four St. John’s hockey players — James Melindy, Cody Donaghey, Zach O’Brien and Nathan Noel — all saw some time in, or spent most of the 2017-18 hockey season in the ECHL.
There are a few graduating juniors from the Quebec major junior circuit who could be of interest to the Growlers next season, notably Gander’s Jordan Maher and Adam Holwell of St. John’s, who are at the Memorial Cup with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and Jesse Sutton of Mount Pearl of the Quebec Remparts.
Another player to keep an eye on, and someone who perhaps could be captain material, is defenceman Adam Pardy of Bonavista. Pardy, 34, has 350 games of NHL experience, and played this past season in the Swedish Elite league.
Pardy, however, won’t be returning overseas. He played in the ECHL back in 2005-06, with the Las Vegas Wranglers.
The ECHL began operation in 1998-99 as the East Coast Hockey League, and became officially known as the ECHL in 2002-03.
Dubbed as the “premiere AA hockey league”, the ECHL has produced a number of players to the NHL, most notably goaltenders. However, there have been others with ECHL experience to rise pro hockey’s ranks. Vegas Golden Knights assistant captain Derek Engelland spent three years in the ECHL, and Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Yanni Gourde and Daniel Girardi also saw action in the “AA” circuit.
In total, 18 former ECHL players made their NHL debut during the 2017-18 season.
In addition to Pardy, other Newfoundlanders who went on to play in the NHL with ECHL experience include Michael Ryder and Darren Langdon, who had a whopping 429 penalty minutes in 54 games for the Dayton Bombers in 1992-93.
Darren Colbourne of Corner Brook enjoyed four 40-goal seasons in the ECHL with the Bombers, Richmond Renegades and Raleigh Icecaps, and Derek Clancey of St. John’s registered a pair of 100-point seasons in the league with the Columbus Chill and Chesapeake Icebreakers.
With the Growlers slated to begin play next season — their first game is Oct. 12 against the Florida Everblades at Mile One — St. John’s becomes the ninth former AHL city to join the ECHL, with Adirondack, N.Y.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; Portland, Maine; Manchester, N.H.; Norfolk, Va.; Salt Lake City, Utah and Worcester, Mass.
“And they’re all doing very well, with great fan support,” Stanford said. “I think once people see the identity of our team, the quality of our team and quality of the league, I think they’ll be impressed.
“In terms of on-ice play, it’s like comparing the AHL to the NHL. Obviously, there’s a difference, and there’s a reason why the leagues are separated. It’s the same with the AHL and ECHL.
“But the best comment you can hear is if you went to an ECHL playoff game and an AHL playoff game, and if you didn’t know the jerseys of the teams involved, you wouldn’t know which league was involved.”