If there’s any truth to the old adage that you only get one chance to make a good first impression, then the Newfoundlanders Growlers stood out – in a good way - Friday night at Mile One Centre.
The expansion team, playing its first ECHL game, fended off a late Florida Everblades rally to register its first franchise win and made a winner out of Ryane Clowe in his first game as a head coach.
It was a much-anticipated evening for St. John’s hockey fans, curious more than anything else of a new league after 20 years housing American Hockey League teams.
The Growlers didn’t disappoint the sell-out crowd.
While the size of the players was noticeable – but then again, perhaps that’s the way the game is trending from the NHL on down, with smaller skaters getting a chance to play – fans got their bang for the entertainment buck with a free-wheeling, physical game (despite what the score indicated).
“Early in the first period,” said Clowe, “I thought both teams were a little sluggish, but I think we picked up the pace.
“Our third period was no doubt the best. I love how we responded after they scored.”
Let the record show rookie defenceman Kristians Rubins from Latvia, fresh from the Medicine Hat Tigers of the western Canada junior ranks, scored the first goal in Growlers history in his first pro game, at 17:13 of the first period.
It stayed 1-0 through two period of play before Matt Bradley made it 2-0 at the 6:58 mark of the third. It was also Bradley’s first goal as a professional, after playing for the WHL’s Regina Pats last season.
Kyle Platzer ruined Eamon McAdam’s bid for a shutout at the 10:27 mark, but Semyon Babintsev scored what would be the game-winner less than two minutes later.
St. John’s native Marcus Power, making his pro start after four years at the University of Prince Edward Island, drew an assist on the play.
Matt Foget would make things interesting, scoring with 1:14 left in regulation time while the Naples, Fla.-based Everblades enjoyed a six-on-four man advantage.
That’s as far as the Floridians would get as McAdam won for the second time for a team making its debut in the ECHL.
He was also between the pipes when the Worcester Railers won their first game.
“This was special to be part of this tonight, with hockey coming back to the city,” said McAdam, a New York Islanders’ third-round draft pick (70th overall) in 2013, who was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer for Matt Martin.
“There was a lot of energy in the building tonight,” McAdam said, “and I think the boys fed off that.”
The night certainly belonged to the players and the appreciative fans, but to Clowe as well. The Fermeuse native and NHL veteran received a rousing cheer in the pre-game introductions.
Clowe said afterwards he remembered growing up playing minor hockey on the Southern Shore and Mount Pearl, and watching many St. John’s Maple Leafs games at old Memorial Stadium.
To record his first win as a head coach in St. John’s was a special situation, and a special opportunity, he said.
“You always remember your first NHL game, and your first goal,” he said. “Your first playoff game. But this is right up there. It was a special moment.
“I remember my first NHL game behind the bench, in Detroit. It was the last game at Joe Louis Arena. But I’ll remember this one, too.”
Chances are, Clowe’s hoping to make another memory tonight when the Growlers take on the Everblades again at Mile One, starting at 7 p.m.
Ex-NHLer Adam Pardy, who will wear the captain’s C this season, was a scratch due to injury. Pardy also missed the Growlers’ three pre-season games … Tryout players Jimmy Soper, Andrew Darrigo and Scott Trask made the Growlers’ opening-day roster. Goaltender Brad Barrone did not. Soper was in the lineup Friday, but Trask and Darrigo were scratched … John McCarron, who had a brief stint with the St. John’s IceCaps, was in the Florida lineup … Premier Dwight Ball took part in the opening faceoff … The Molson three stars were 1. Scott Pooley 2. Eamon McAdam and 3 Matt Bradley. Yes, it was a 3-2 game, and no, the media didn’t pick them …