If the Newfoundland Growlers wanted to make sure they’d get a good test during their first week in the ECHL, their schedule is doing just that.
After splitting a pair of 3-2 games with the 2018 Kelly Cup finalist Florida Everblades over the weekend at Mile One Centre, the Growlers are ready to face the team the Everblades defeated in last spring’s Eastern Conference final.
The Adirondack Thunder, who finished first in the North Division last season, are in St. John’s for games against the Growlers tonight and Wednesday, with both matchups starting at 7 p.m.
The Thunder, an affiliate of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, have played once this season, defeating the league’s other expansion entry — the Maine Mariners — 6-3 Sunday in Portland, Me.
Since joining the ECHL in 2015, the Thunder have compiled an overall 121-72-24 record and have made the playoffs every season.
This will be the third different pro team based out of Glens Falls, N.Y., to skate in St. John’s. The best-known are the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, who battled the St. John’s Maple Leafs in that memorable 1992 Calder Cup final that ended with Wings prevailing in Game 7 at old Memorial Stadium.
There were also the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, who operated for five seasons as Glens Falls served as sort of a placeholder while the parent Philadelphia Flyers waited to relocate to a new facility in Allentown, in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.
There was a third Adirondack team in the AHL. That was the Flames, who were Calgary’s farm team for one season (2014-15) before the franchise became part of the AHL’s westward migration and ended up in Stockton, Calif.
However, the Adirondack Flames never visited St. John’s.
As part of that 2014 shakeup, the ECHL franchise that had been located in Stockton was shifted/swapped to Adirondack, which for two years was the NHL Flames’ ECHL outpost. The affiliation with the Devils began last season.
And yes, this is one of two ECHL teams with Thunder for a nickname. The other is the Wichita Thunder, which brought that moniker when it came over from the defunct Central Hockey League to join the ECHL in 2014.
Not that St. John’s hockey fans aren’t used to having their hometown side as part of a circuit with teams in two cities with the same nickname. In the AHL days, there were the Norfolk and Milwaukee Admirals, a situation that ended when Norfolk transferred, as did Adirondack, to the ECHL in 2014.
In fact, there are seven cities that were home to AHL franchises during St. John’s time in that league that now find themselves as part of the ECHL. The others are Cincinnati, Salt Lake City (Utah), Manchester, N.H., Portland (Maine), and Worcester, Mass.
As with all ECHL teams that will travel here during the Growlers’ first year in the ECHL, almost every player in tonight’s visitors’ lineup will be unfamiliar to most Newfoundland hockey fans. But folks in St. John’s might remember big (6-4, 230-pound ) Princeton-educated defenceman Michael Sdao, who came to Mile One as a member of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. Other notables include also 2017-18 team leading scorer Shayne Conacher, brother of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher, former Vancouver Giants captain James Henry, runner-up to Conacher in points last season, and Brian Ward, who has averaged better than a goal every two games (58G in 109GP) since joining Adirondack in 2016 … For Newfoundlanders, the best-known Thunder alumnus will be defenceman Alex Wall of Mount Pearl, who topped all Adirondack rearguards in scoring in 2016-17, his only full ECHL season. Since then Wall has been playing in Europe, first in Norway and now in Austria …