A year-an-a-half ago, Garrett Johnston was playing senior hockey in his native Winnipeg and had no thoughts of skating in the professional ranks. He was just happy to be back on the ice again after having spent most of 2017 recovering from a bacterial infection of his heart.
But today, Johnston can call himself a pro hockey champion after helping the Newfoundland Growlers to an ECHL Kelly Cup title this past spring. In fact, you can call him a returning member of the Growlers after the announcement that the 24-year-old has signed a new one-year ECHL contract with Newfoundland.
The six-foot-two Johnston started the 2018-19 season with the Birmingham Bulls of the Southern Professional Hockey League after trying out with the team on the advice of Taylor Dickin, whom he skated with during the off-season. In 21 games with Birmingham, he had a goal and 11 assists.
Meanwhile, in late December, the Growlers found their blueline thinned by injuries and call-ups to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. Newfoundland coach John Snowden knew and trusted Birmingham head coach Jamie Hicks and asked if there was anyone on the Bulls who might be able to help the Growlers.
Hicks recommended Johnston, who went to Newfoundland and never returned to Alabama,.
In all, Johnston appeared in 39 games with the Growlers, registering 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and 10 penalty minutes. He appeared in all 23 games in the march to the Kelly Cup playoffs, scoring a goal and adding six assists.
Johnston, who played three years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and one at the University of Manitoba, is the second Growlers player re-signed to an ECHL deal, joining fellow defenceman and team captain James Melindy of Goulds.
Eight other members of the ECHL champions have earned AHL contracts with the Marlies. That group includes forwards Zach O’Brien, Matt Bradley, Brad Ferguson, Marcus Power, Giorgio Estephan and Scott Pooley and defensemen Alex Gudbranson and Kristians Rubins.