After all this, Ryane Clowe and the Newfoundland Growlers are going to hate to leave home.
The Growlers downed the Adirondack Thunder 3-1 Saturday night and they did it in front of a substantial supporting section, a crowd of just under 5,000, one of the largest turnouts for an ECHL game at Mile One Centre this season.
It was the fifth straight win for Newfoundland (25-11-1), with all five victories coming at Mile One.
Clowe says it’s nice to have backing from almost-full stands, but he also sees it as important in marketing the expansion team, which is still trying to make inroads with the local hockey faithful, especially those still not sure about the ECHL after two decades of American Hockey League play in St. John’s.
“For me, it’s important to get the crowd here so they can simply see the hockey, because I think it’s good hockey and will get even better as it goes along. We have a good team, good players, guys making a lot of plays. It’s a good brand,” said Clowe, whose side has won 15 of its 20 games so far at Mile One.
“We’re really good at home. We’ve found ways to win those back-to-backs here, which can be tough.”
But if the Growlers are to extend their winning ways, they’ll have to do it on the road.
Saturday’s game, which was witnessed by an official 4,912, clewed up a six-game homestand, which began on a sour note — a 2-1 loss to the Jacksonville Icemen — but got a whole lot better, with the Growlers outscoring the opposition 27-13 in the ensuing five victories, including a 6-3 decision over the Thunder Friday night.
Saturday’s rematch saw Adirondack dealing with a deficit before the opening faceoff. Injuries and illness meant the Thunder dressed just 14 skaters, two less than seen in a normal ECHL lineup
In fact, of those 14 dressed, seven are normally listed as defencemen.
Clowe said he did bring up the opposition’s lineup troubles before the game, but his information came with a warning label.
“Sometimes, you’re touch and go about telling the guys that sort of thing because maybe they’ll let their guards down thinking it’s going to be an easier night,” he said. “So I told them the Thunder was going to be a desperate team.
“And they were. They played hard. But I think we responded pretty well. I didn’t like our first period, but we got better as we went along and I think the third was our best period.”
That third saw Scott Pooley score his second goal of the game for Newfoundland, while a Growlers’ penalty kill that’s been among the ECHL’s best this season got the home side through a tricky stretch when it was tagged with back-to-back minors.
After being unable to make anything out of those power-play chances, the Thunder — visibly tired in the late going — couldn’t do any more damage, even with netminder Devin Buffalo on the bench for an extra attacker in the last couple of minutes of the contest.
The Growlers got a goal in every period, with Pooley scoring in the first and Matt Bradley tallying early in the second.
Pooley’s 16th and 17th goals of the season moved him into a tie for the team’s scoring lead with Zach O’Brien, who had an assist Saturday. Both have 33 points.
Seven Newfoundland forwards, Bradley included, have 26 or more points. All are rookies, except for O’Brien.
“It took a little bit of time, I think, for some of us young guys to adjust to the program, especially since it’s an expansion team just being put together. But we’re almost halfway through the season now,” said Pooley,” I think you can see in games that we’ve got the chemistry that’s needed.
“We know how each guy works. All of us first-year guys are learning a lot from the older guys. At the same time, I think we are getting into our own routines, learning what it means to be a pro, on and off the ice.”
Cullen Bradshaw had the only goal on Saturday for Adirondack (20-12-5), which fell six points behind Newfoundland in the race for first place in the ECHL’s North Division.
Brad Barone made 22 saves in the Newfoundland goal as the Growlers continued to get solid contributions from netminders who weren’t part of the opening-day roster.
Eamon McAdam and Michael Garteig, the Growlers’ goaltending tandem at the start of the 2018-19 campaign, are both on recall to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. But their fill-ins have proven to be more than capable.
Mario Culina, who left the Growlers before Christmas to return to university, and Eric Levine and Barone, the goaltenders on the Newfoundland roster today, have a combined record of 10-1, and have permitted just 26 goals in those 11 games.
Since joining the team after Culina’s departure, Barone has given up just seven goals in his three starts, two wins and that 2-1 loss to Jacksonville.
But he knows that if the parent Toronto Maple Leafs get over their present woes with injured goalies, the trickle-down could flow all the way to the Growlers, with Garteig — maybe even Garteig and McAdam — back in Newfoundland.
“Nothing is really for sure in this business,” said Barone. “All I know is that I want to be here and that I will work really hard, do everything to ensure that I stay.”
The Growlers begin their road trip Wednesday night in Portland, Me., against their expansion cousins, the Maine Mariners. It’s officially a five-game road swing, but after a pair of matchups against the Worcester Railers next weekend in Massachusetts, the team will head back home for the ECHL All-Star break, before heading out again for a couple of games Jan. 26 and 27 against the Brampton Beast.
The Growlers swept the three-star selections Saturday, with Pooley, Bradley and Barone going 1-2-3 … Growlers’ forward Marcus Power was held pointless in the game ending a number of personal streaks. Before Saturday, the St. John’s native had at least one goal in seven straight home games, at least one point in 10 straight contests at Mile One, and a goal in every game of the just-ended homestand … St. John’s native Cody Donaghey has been returned to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears by the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. Donaghey had been called up to the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate last week, but didn’t appear in any games …