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Team has needed little in the way of lineup changes during its ECHL Kelly Cup playoff run
With the Newfoundland Growlers this ECHL playoff season, it’s been pretty much a case of what you see is what you get … and will keep getting.
Through their first 14 post-season games, the Growlers have used just 20 players, with minimal lineup changes. That’s a reflection of both the team’s ability to avoid serious injuries and of its success to date. Newfoundland is 10-4 so far in these playoffs, with a couple of its wins coming in the first two games of their Eastern Conference final against the Florida Everblades, a best-of-seven series that continues with Game 3 Wednesday night at Mile One Centre.
So if the machine is working well, why tinker with it?
“We’ve done well so far and we’re pretty healthy, so that’s the big reason for the (lineup consistency),” said the Growlers’ main mechanic, head coach John Snowden, who was probably knocking on wood as he offered the quote.
“But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. You always want to have competition for spots and that’s the way it’s been all season.
“And even though we haven’t changed much, our guys know there are others who are ready to come in and do the job, to take those spots. So the competition is still there even if it hasn’t meant many changes.”
In fact, almost all the alterations to Newfoundland’s 18-player gameday lineup in these playoffs have been the result of additions to the roster on reassignments from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, with forward Hudson Elyniuk and defenceman Kristians Rubiuns and goaltender Eamon McAdam all coming down from the AHL affiliate.
The three have become regular fixtures in the lineup, although McAdam hasn’t actually played; he’s been the backup to Michael Garteig, who has started and finished all 14 playoff games so far.
Their arrivals have meant forward Todd Skirving, defenceman Evan Neugold and netminder Eric Levine have been bumped the press box, where they join defenceman Ilya Nekolenko and teenaged forward Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who played nine games before being sidelined by an injury during the Growlers’ second-round series against the Manchester Monarchs.
Skirving (two games) and Neugold (six) have also seen action during the playoffs, but it’s gotten to the point where Snowden might not need an eraser when compiling his lineup sheets.
“It is good to have that consistency because it usually means things are going pretty well,” said Snowden, “but like I said, we’ve got depth … others ready to step in and step up.
“We’ve been consistent, but we can’t be complacent.”
The Marlies, who remain in the Calder Cup hunt in the AHL, have two other forwards who were deemed playoff-eligible for Newfoundland before the start of the post-season. However, outside of some emergency situation, Snowden says we won’t be seeing Gabriel Gagne or Griffen Molino. That’s because the Growlers have already filled all their available roster spots — 20 active and three reserve.
Other than Skirving, whose only dressed for a couple of playoff games, every Growlers forward has scored at least one goal in these playoffs.
The latest is J.J. Piccinich, who got his first postseason tally for Newfoundland in Saturday’s 5-1 win in Game 2 in Estero, Fla., on Saturday.
“It was great to see (Piccinich) get one,” said Snowden. “You don’t always need to be scoring to be effective, but he’s been doing all the right things all along, so it was good to see him rewarded with a goal.”
There was a time Everblades’ captain John McCarron heard cheers for his play at Mile One Centre; he had a brief three-game stay with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps — including a single game at Mile One — during the 2016-17 season.
However, McCarron is unlikely to experience much in the way of déjà vu on Wednesday night, especially since he was seen — at least by the Growlers — to be among those at the forefront of an effort to get under the cage of Garteig by bumping and running the Newfoundland netminder during the opening games of the series.
“EverBlades threw everything at us tonight... everything. They ran Garteig all night long.... so we ran them out of the building! 5-1...these Growlers are Tough!!!” tweeted Growlers owner Dean MacDonald at the end of Game 2
Florida did receive a minor for goaltender interference in each game, although Newfoundland defenceman James Melindy appeared to want more penance late in Saturday’s contest when he fought McCarron in a captain vs captain scrap.
Melindy picked up 17 penalty minutes in the sequence — a roughing minor, fighting major and game misconduct for continuing the altercation — bringing his playoff penalty minute total to 69, most in the league.
It’s part of 224 total playoff PIMs for Newfoundland, which is most of any team in the Kelly Cup playdowns. That represents a big change from the regular season, when the Growlers were among the least-penalized teams in the league.
McCarron is the brother of Montreal Canadiens’ first-round draft pick and former IceCaps forward Michael McCarron, but he is not the brother of Everblades teammate Patrick McCarron.
John McCarron is from Michigan, while Patrick McCarron, a defenceman, is from Toronto. However, the two were once teammates at Cornell University, where John McCarron was the Big Red captain in 2013-14.