They’ve been operating without their head coach and their two leading scorers, and they’ve used 13 different defencemen through their first 18 games, but nothing has seemed to faze the Newfoundland Growlers in November.
The expansion Growlers (13-5-0) ran their winning streak to eight games and solidified their hold on first place overall in the ECHL with a pair of weekend road wins over the Reading Royals, pulling out a 5-4 overtime victory on Friday and prevailing 5-2 the following night.
Newfoundland’s last loss was Oct. 30, when it dropped a 5-1 decision to the Adirondack Thunder.
Growlers head coach Ryane Clowe wasn’t behind the bench in Reading due to what the team says are “medical reasons.” In all, Clowe — whose NHL playing career was cut short by concussion symptoms — has missed five of Newfoundland’s games during the win streak.
That means it was assistant John Snowden who was once again at the helm in Reading, where on Friday Zach O’Brien scored in overtime to complete the first hat trick in Growlers history. O’Brien followed up with another marker — his sixth of the season — on Saturday, when Newfoundland got goals from five different players.
Hudson Elyniuk, with his pro tally, J.J. Piccinich, Todd Skirving and Sam Babintsev also scored in Saturday’s rematch for the Growlers, who’ve been getting offence from a variety of sources ever since rookie forwards Brady Ferguson and Giorgio Estephan — the team’s top two point-getters — were recalled by the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
Defenceman Kyle Cumiskey had a couple of assists for the Growlers in each came on the weekend, but it looks like Newfoundland will have to make do without the veteran rearguard for a while — he’s been signed to a tryout contract by the AHL’s Providence Bruins, who are dealing with a blueline shortage because of numerous call-ups to their injury-ravaged NHL parent team in Boston.
Since Cumiskey, who has nine assists in 11 games with Newfoundland, was signed to an ECHL-only contract, he was eligible to sign with any other AHL or NHL organization.
However, once his tryout with the P-Bruins ends, he can only suit up in the ECHL with the Growlers.
Cumiskey’s situation is different than that of Ferguson and Estephan, who can only play in the AHL with the Marlies; they are signed to AHL contracts with Toronto and were on assignment to Newfoundland.
The departure — for however long — of Cumiskey adds to a tale of turnover for the Newfoundland blueline corps. On Saturday, Ilya Nekolenko, who had been claimed on waivers from the Royals last week, made his debut with the team, becoming the 13th defenceman to play at least one game with the Growlers.
In goal, Mario Culina earned first-star honours Saturday by making 40 saves for Newfoundland as he recorded a third win in as many starts this season.
Now, the Growlers will look to maintain their hot streak is the warmth of Florida. After a short bus trip to Philadelphia, they boarded a plane for Jacksonville, where they take on the Icemen Wednesday night. Then it’s on to Orlando, where they complete their only regular-season trip to the Sunshine State with matchups against the Solar Bears Friday and Saturday.
Babintsev was added to the Growlers’ active roster from the reserve list just before the start of the road trip and after Ferguson and Estephan were recalled by the Marlies … Babintsev was plus-four over the weekend in Reading, while Cumiskey and newly-named Growlers captain James Melindy was plus-three … Newfoundland has outscored the opposition 34-17 during its win streak …