The Newfoundland Growlers were always interested in James Melindy and were prepared to reach out to the five-year pro, believing he could be an important, as well as logical, addition to their roster for their inaugural ECHL season.
Turns out they didn’t have make the first move.
“I don’t think I really I gave them a chance to even do it,” chuckled Melindy, the 24-year-old defenceman from Goulds who signed a one-year ECHL contract with the Growlers on Thursday.
“When the (2017-18) season ended for myself and I knew there would be (an ECHL) team in St. John’s, I immediately told my agent ‘Listen, this is where I want to be, this is a situation I want to be in.’”
Eventually, it worked out as Melindy wanted to, even it took a bit of time. For one thing, there was the ECHL’s annual June protocol whereby teams declare season-ending rosters, then extend qualifying offers, before the signing period officially begins.
However, as it turned out, the Utah Grizzlies, Melindy’s ECHL team last season, did not move to retain his rights.
Ironically, it was his experience — he’s played in almost 300 ECHL and American Hockey League games since turning pro with the AHL’s Portland Pirates in 2013 — that helped make him a free agent. That game log made him an official veteran under ECHL rules, which restrict the number of such players teams can carry.
“(The Grizzlies) were unable to protect me as a veteran … so I could pick and choose where I wanted to go,” said Melindy.
But in his mind, there was really just one choice.
By this time, the Growlers had named Fermeuse’s Ryane Clowe as head coach, so Melindy contacted his fellow Newfoundlander.
“I sent him a message asking him if there was any interest in getting me to come home and he said there was,” recalled Melindy, who then had his agent officially begin talks with the Growlers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, their NHL affiliate.
“It might not have happened quite as quickly as I wanted, but at the end of the day, the result was still the same … things definitely worked out for the best for me, allowing me to come home after a long time away and play the game I love in a place I love, in front of my friends and family.”
Melindy’s time away from home began a decade ago. He wasn’t yet 15 when he went to Saskatchewan to play midget hockey for two years at fabled Notre Dame College. Then it was three seasons in Moncton. N.B., with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Wildcats. After his second season in Moncton, the Phoenix Coyotes made him a third-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft and he would eventually spend three seasons in the Coyotes organization, split between the Pirates and ECHL teams.
Most of the 2017-18 campaign was spent in the ECHL, in Salt Lake City with the Grizzlies, although he also did see action with the AHLs San Diego Gulls, with whom he had a contract.
The 6-3, 210-pound rearguard has a reputation as a raw-boned, physical rearguard who is particularly good in his own end of the ice. For the record, he describes himself as “someone I would like to think is hard to play against.”
His stats line bears out both the reputation and his self-assessment.
In 236 ECHL games, Melindy has 583 penalty minutes to go along with 14 goals and 49 assists in 236 games. He has another 100 PIMs in 60 AHL contests.
Now, he’ll bring his qualities to the Growlers as their second-ever signing, after fellow St. John’s native Marcus Power, the forward who was signed by the team last week.
“As soon as I heard rumblings (about the ECHL coming to St. John’s), it definitely struck me as something I wanted to do,” said Melindy. “I’ve been living away from hockey and playing hockey for so long.
“Now, I’ll get a chance to play as a pro for my hometown. There are not a lot of players who can say that, so I think more than anything, I feel fortunate.”