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Just about an even split of familiar faces and new comers on team that begins defence of its ECHL crown tonight against Reading Royals
You might call it a half-and-half lineup.
The Newfoundland Growlers have unveiled their season-opening roster in advance of tonight’s ECHL season-opening game against the Reading Royals at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
Of the 23 players listed, 10 of them were part of the Newfoundland team that claimed the Kelly Cup and league championship this past spring. Another 10 are professional rookies.
That leaves just three players — forward Aaron Luchuk, defenceman Michael Kapla and goaltender Patrick Munson — who are newcomers with professional experience.
Here are some other notes about the Growlers team that plays the Royals tonight, Saturday night and Tuesday at Mile One:
• Three players — Luchuk and rookie defencemen Joseph Duszak and Mac Hollowell — are operating on National Hockey League entry-level contracts with the parent Toronto Maple Leafs. There are 13 players on AHL contracts. The other seven have ECHL deals.
• Kapla, who is currently on an American Hockey League contract, is the only player to have appeared in an NHL games, having suited up in five games with the New Jersey Devils in 2017 after exiting the collegiate ranks to turn pro.
• Two of the rookies — towering forward Justin Brazeau and offensive defenceman Mac Hollowell — were first team all-stars in the Ontario Hockey League last season. Another rookie, forward Riley Woods, was a second-team all-star in the Western Hockey League. And yet another first-year player, rearguard Joseph Duszak was a finalist for the Hobey Baker awars as the top player in all of Division 1 U.S. college hockey last season. Duszak had 47 points for Mercyhurst College in 2018-19, the most of any NCAA Division One defenceman.
• Of the 13 forwards listed, seven played with Newfoundland last season. That includes of six of the team’s seven leading scorers from last season, headed up by top point-getter and Kelly Cup playoff MVP Zach O’Brien.
• There have been major changes to the back end. Both goaltenders are new to the Growlers as are five of eight defencemen. Captain James Melindy, Evan Neugold and Garrett Johnston are the three returning rearguards.
• The Growlers can carry 21 players on the active (playing) roster for the early part of the season, but league rules call for that to be eventually scaled back to 20 players. For now, a pair of forwards — rookie Reid Jackman and returnee Todd Skirving — have been placed on the reserve list.
• Don’t be surprised if there are even more roster adjustments in the near future. Rookie goalie and Leafs prospect Ian Scott as well as veteran defenceman Alex Gudbranson, a key performer on last season’s championship team, would probably have been assigned to Newfoundland had they not been injured. For now, they remain on the roster of the Growlers’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.