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VIDEO: These dogs have their day: Newfoundland Growlers capture ECHL crown with thrilling victory


They clinch title with thrilling 4-3 win over Toledo Walleye at a packed, boisterous Mile One

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

On a late May night 27 years ago, Glenn Stanford spent the last couple of minutes of the third period of a hockey game at old Memorial Stadium arranging for the re-sale of champagne.

Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy celebrates after being presented with the Kelly Cup after the team's win over the Toledo Walleye in Game 6 of the ECHL final at Mile One Centre on Tuesday night.
Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy celebrates after being presented with the Kelly Cup after the team's win over the Toledo Walleye in Game 6 of the ECHL final at Mile One Centre on Tuesday night.

The St. John's Maple Leafs were just about to lose 5-2 to the Adirondack Red Wings in Game 7 of the American Hockey League's Calder Cup final, but the Wings had gone into the contest without having made provisions for victory bubbly, and so they turned to Stanford, who ran the local operations of the AHL Leafs. Disappointed, but practical as well as a good sport, Stanford did the deal.

Stanford bought champagne again this week — 50 bottles worth — but this time, there will be no need to offload his purchase.

 His team consumed it, was showered with it, revelled in it.

Stanford is chief operating officer of the Newfoundland Growlers, who made all kinds of history at Mile One Centre in St. John's Tuesday night, where they defeated the Toledo Walleye 4-3 to claim the 2018-19 ECHL championship. They did so before a packed house, populated by what had to be the loudest crowd to ever attend a hockey game in the now 18-year-old building.

The result gives the expansion Growlers the Kelly Cup and makes them the first-ever professional sports team from Newfoundland and Labrador to claim a title, doing what those 1992 AHL Leafs, the 2014 AHL, St. John's IceCaps, and Basketball League of Canada's St. John's Edge, just a month ago, could not quite achieve in league finals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate is also the first Canadian franchise to win the ECHL crown.

The expansion Growlers took the best-of-seven series 4-2, finishing off their inaugural season in their 98th competitive game, pre-season, regular season and playoffs combined.

Members of the Newfoundland Growlers celebrate after winning the Kelly Cup over the Toledo Walleye at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.
Members of the Newfoundland Growlers celebrate after winning the Kelly Cup over the Toledo Walleye at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.

They took it down to the wire Tuesday, enough so that the possibility of a 99th game being necessary couldn't be dispelled. But there would be no hometown heartbreak on this night, although hearts that may have skipped a beat a time or two.

It had looked comfortable for Newfoundland heading into the third period. The Growlers had dominated through 40 minutes with a textbook, uptempo game and had built up a 4-1 lead that could have been much, much larger. But in coming back from a 3-0 third-period deficit in what turned out to be a 4-3 loss in Game 1, the Walleye had already shown the Mile One faithful that they weren't a school of fish that could be easily chased away.

They didn't go quietly in Game 6 either, scoring twice in the third period to close to within one, and had a Grade A chance in the waning seconds with their net emptied for an extra attacker.

But goalie Michael Garteig and the Growlers held on for a momentous victory, one that should be credited in part to the 6,329 who watched from the stands.

The Mile One fans were at their best Tuesday, never better than they were after Toledo's A.J. Jenks scored his team's third goal with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. They were the "ohhs!" of disappointment, but seconds later, the building erupted into chants of "Let's go, Growlers!" and those words came with a confidence that seemed to be transferred down to ice level, to the young men in the black jerseys with the Newfoundland dog logos who went on to close out what, for most, was the biggest win of their hockey career.

And not just the players. John Snowden, who never won a championship in his professional playing career, didn't start the season believing he would be head coach of a championship team in June of 2019. That's because, at the time. he wasn't the head coach but an assistant to Ryane Clowe. But when health issues forced Clowe to step down midseason, Snowden took over and guided the team through the dog days of the schedule, the home stretch and four playoff rounds.

As his Newfoundland Growlers teammates celebrate around him, forward Todd Skirving (15) drinks from the Kelly Cup after the Growlers' 4-3 win over the Toledo Walleye Tuesday night at Mile One Centre. The result gave Newfoundland a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven ECHL championship final. --  Keith Gosse/The Telegram
As his Newfoundland Growlers teammates celebrate around him, forward Todd Skirving (15) drinks from the Kelly Cup after the Growlers' 4-3 win over the Toledo Walleye Tuesday night at Mile One Centre. The result gave Newfoundland a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven ECHL championship final. -- Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It was a team with more than half a roster of first-year pros. One of the rookies is Giorgio Estephan, who scored back-to-back second-period tallies for the Growlers on Tuesday, including the one that will go down as the game-winner. Matt Bradley and Josh Kestner, two other rookie forwards, had the other markers for Newfoundland, which led 1-0 after the first period.

Kevin Tansey and Hunter Smith joined Jenks as the goal-scorers for Toledo.

Shots on goal were 27 to 26 for the Growlers, but the Walleye owned the third, when the shots were 13-3.

But Newfoundland had owned the first two frames and that proved to be enough.

St. John's native Zach O'Brien, who had an assist Tuesday, was named winner of the June Kelly Trophy as playoff MVP, finishing with a playoff-leading 29 points, including 16 goals, one short of the ECHL record.

But the most prized trophy initially went to another Newfoundlander. As team captain, James Melindy of Goulds accepted the Kelly Cup from league commissioner Ryan Crelin.

And on a mild night that began with Chris Andrew's shiver-inducing rendition of the "Ode to Newfoundland" as part of the anthem offering, another player from this province was highlighted. Defenceman Adam Pardy of Bonavista was named the first star.

The scoresheet might have suggested Estephan was in line for that honour, but that Pardy received it seemed fitting, considering he said Tuesday's game was the final one in a professional career that has stretched over 14 years and nearly 700 games, about half of them in the NHL.

If that's the case, what a way to go out, because Tuesday marked the first time in that long pro career that the 34-year-old Pardy — an old dog in a room full of pups —has been part of a championship team.

Newfoundland Growlers players hoist the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.
Newfoundland Growlers players hoist the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre Tuesday night.

Twitter: @telybrendan

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