By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor
St. John’s native Zach O’Brien registered the first hat trick in Newfoundland Growlers history Friday night, capping things off with the overtime winner as the ECHL expansion team continued to make noise in its first season, scoring a 5-4 win over the Reading Royals in Reading, Pa.
The win was the seventh straight for the Growlers, who improved to a league-leading 12-5 on the year.
It was the start of a five-game road trip for Newfoundland. Both teams have a rematch Saturday night at Reading’s Santander Arena, and the Growlers hope to have coach Ryane Clowe back behind the bench.
Clowe missed Friday’s game for medical reasons. Clowe, whose NHL career was cut short due to concussions, sat out the last three games of the Growlers most recent road trip.
Assistant coach John Snowden ran the Newfoundland bench Friday.
O’Brien scored the game’s only goal in the first period, before defenceman Stefan Leblanc made it 2-0 26 seconds into the second period.
But the homestanding Royals came alive with three straight goals in the middle frame, including a pair by Steve Swavely and one from Josh MacDonald.
O’Brien struck again 2:31 into the third period to draw the Growlers even, and Sam Babintsev staked Newfoundland to a 4-3 lead less than three minutes later.
It stood that way until MacDonald potted his second of the night with 1:58 left in regulation time, setting the stage for O’Brien’s OT heroics.
O’Brien finished the night with four points, in only his second game back in the lineup after missing 10 to injury.
The Growlers played without their top two scorers, Brady Ferguson and Giorgio Estephan, who are both on recall to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Michael Garteig was outstanding in the Growlers’ net, stopping 40 shots. Austin Lotz was called on to make 22 saves for the Royals.