The Newfoundland Growlers’ odds of extending their eight-game winning streak increased Monday with word the team’s two leading scorers, rookie forwards Bradley Ferguson and Giorgio Estephan, were being returned by the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
Ferguson, who entered this week with 20 points, tied for second-most in the ECHL, and Estephan, who has 18, were recalled by the Marlies before the start of the Newfoundland’s current road trip, but it didn’t faze the Growlers over the weekend, who opened their road swing with 5-4 and 5-2 wins — the former in overtime — against the Reading Royals.
The hot streak has propelled Newfoundland (13-5) to the top of the league’s overall standings, and even though it can be pointed out the Growlers’ points total is helped by the fact they’ve played more games than any other team in the league, their winning percentage — which doesn’t have anything to do with frequency of schedule — is .722, best in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall in the circuit.
The return of Ferguson and Estephan is obviously fortuitous for Newfoundland, but even though it’s a demotion for the pair, it could be argued there is a sunny (literally) upside for them as it comes as the Growlers prepare for their lone visit to Florida, where they take on the Jacksonville Icemen Wednesday and the Orlando Solar Bears for games Friday and Saturday.
The challenge, in terms of player absence for Newfoundland now focuses on the back end, where the team must forge on without veteran defenceman Kyle Cumiskey, signed to a tryout contract by the AHL’s Providence Bruins on Sunday.
Cumiskey, who has appeared in nearly 100 NHL games and won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, had nine points — all assists — in 11 games since signing with the Growlers and had been a key contributor to a power play that had started clicking after a slow start to the season.
The P-Bruins obviously took note and made Cumiskey one of three blueliners they signed out of the ECHL in the past few days. Providence had some huge gaps on its back end because of recalls to the parent Boston Bruins, who are dealing with injuries to no less than six defencemen.
Cumiskey is now one of two players who had been with Newfoundland and are now in the AHL. The other is goaltender Eamon McAdam, who was recalled in mid-October to the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs as an emergency backup and then remained in Toronto with the Marlies.
McAdam has a 2-0-1 record and 2.81 goals-against average in five appearances in the AHL this season.
Four other players who suited up with Newfoundland in the early part of the season but were released are skating in the Southern Professional Hockey League, considered the third tier of minor hockey behind the AHL and ECHL.
That quartet includes Bonavista native Scott Trask, who is with the SPHL’s Huntsville Havoc, after having appeared in two games with the Growlers. The 25-year-old forward turned pro in Huntsville last season after graduating from Acadia University.
Fellow forward Jimmy Soper, who also played two games for Newfoundland, has also returned to his former SPHL club, the Macon Mayhem. Soper, who is from Waterloo, Ont., but whose father is a native of St. John’s, has two goals and four assists, in five games with Macon.
Defenceman Andrew Darrigo suited up in Newfoundland’s first four games, but like Soper and Trask, is now back with his SPHL club from last season. In his case, it’s the Birmingham Bulls.
Finally, rookie rearguard Carter Struthers is with the SPHL’s Pensacola Ice Flyers after a couple of games with the Growlers.
Finally, we’ll make note of one player who didn’t officially play with the Growlers, but did see action with Newfoundland in a pre-season contest. That’s goaltender Brad Barone, who was cut by Newfoundland before the start of the regular season, but whom the club wanted to bring back after McAdam was recalled to Toronto
That didn’t happen, but things worked out pretty well for Newfoundland. Mario Culina, the goalie they did get to back up Michael Garteig, has won all three of his starts and has a 2.00 GAA.
Barone has done OK, too. After starting the campaign with the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, he got called up to the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals, where he has a 2.53 GAA in four games.