Team's original coach gets to share that championship feeling with Kelly Cup winners
Ryane Clowe stood at centre ice as the clock neared 10 p.m. on Tuesday, dressed in a nice blue suit and wearing a great big grin on his face.
Around him, the Newfoundland Growlers, the team he used to coach, hooped and hollered and passed around the Kelly Cup – a brand new one, by the way – after winning the franchise’s first ECHL championship, in their first year, no less.
In the stands, what was left of the 6,329 which filled Mile One Centre for the championship-clinching 4-3 win over the Toledo Walleye, refused to relent on their celebration of the city and province’s first professional sports championship.
Clowe had the expression of a proud father, watching his young kids — his other kids, the older, hockey-playing ones — goof around. Proud was a word he used often, but never — not once –—was there a tinge of regret or even mixed emotions.
“No, not really,” said Clowe, who was surrounded by his ‘real’ family, his wife and kids. “None at all, actually.
“I don’t regret my decision for one minute,” he said. “I’m feeling better now. I’m just excited and happy for the guys. Real happy. I’m delighted for them.”
Shortly after team captain James Melindy was presented with the Kelly Cup, the trophy made its way to Clowe. For it’s the Fermeuse native who was the first face of the franchise, the former NHLer who helped mould this roster, along with Mike Dixon, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ director of minor league operations.
Of course, in typical Clowe stand-up fashion, the prize was barely in his possession when Clowe handed it to John Snowden, the coach who took the reins and guided the Growlers to the very end.
By now, we all know Clowe’s story. Diving head first into the pro coaching world full time for the first time, Clowe loved being the Growlers’ first coach, working long and hard and soaking up everything like a sponge.
And then fate intervened.
The symptoms from a number of concussions which ended a 10-year NHL playing career came back with a vengeance, and soon they got to be too much.
On Jan. 19, just before the league’s all-star game, Clowe coached the Growlers to a 5-1 win over the Railers in Worcester, Mass.
Four days later, the Growlers announced the team’s first coach in franchise history was stepping down because of lingering concussion issues.
Clowe was sick of being sick and tired.
Snowden, who had been the assistant coach, was taking over the top job effective immediately.
“I thought about it a lot because I loved it,” Clowe said of the coaching gig and his future. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I know it was the right decision.
“Honestly, I really don’t feel anything in terms of regret or disappointment or anything. Even just a couple of weeks ago, when they were on a deep run, I really didn’t regret it.”
“I don’t regret my decision for one minute. I’m feeling better now. I’m just excited and happy for the guys. Real happy.” — Ryane Clowe
Through the back half of the season, Snowden and Clowe kept in almost daily contact. Lately, Clowe was seen at Mile One a lot, but not to the point where he was a distraction.
Remember what we were saying about that proud father thing?
“That’s exactly how I feel,” he said. “It’s a very young group. Sure, there’s James Melindy and Adam Pardy and Zach (O’Brien), the veteran core, but it’s a young group of guys who really came together.
“They were all really elite players on their teams last year, and then they kind of had to give up some of their identity as players and develop new roles.
“I’m really proud of them.”
You get the sense the feeling was mutual.
“There are a lot of rookies, lots of new things for a lot of guys,” said defenceman Adam Pardy, who like Clowe was a veteran of the NHL, “but Clowie really set the standard high early in the season.
“It was tough losing him, but we just continued what he had started. It was always there in our minds. He was always talked about in the room.”
Like the rest of the Growlers faithful gathered inside Mile One, Clowe, Dixon and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant general manager Laurence Gilman were squirming in the dying minutes when the Walleye drew to within a goal with less than four minutes to play in regulation.
As a player, he said, you’re rarely nervous. As a coach, the butterflies are definitely jumping a bit. But Tuesday night, as a spectator, Clowe was, “nervous as it gets.
“Yeah, we were a little uptight,” he grinned. “But you know what? We played so well tonight that I had a real good feeling about this.
“It’s the best we played all playoffs.”
Clowe is signed for another year. Between periods, did he speak with Dixon and Gilman about another role in the organization next year?
The short answer is no.
“I have no plans now,” he said. “The Leafs know my health is my priority, and I’m just coming around, starting to feel a bit better.
“I really have no plans. That’s not beating around the bush. That’s the honest truth.”
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