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ROBIN SHORT: Lots of success, but 2019-20 a lost hockey season, too

Marcus Power, who finished fourth on Newfoundland Growlers scoring this season, says the players are heartbroken with the way the season ended. — Jeff Parsons/Newfoundland Growlers
Marcus Power, who finished fourth on Newfoundland Growlers scoring this season, says the players are heartbroken with the way the season ended. — Jeff Parsons/Newfoundland Growlers - Contributed

The Newfoundland Growlers won 42 games in the ECHL this season, fourth-most in the circuit, They lapped the North Division, finished third in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall in the league.

They set a new league home-ice win-streak record in 2019-20, and were poised to become only the fourth team to win back-to-back Kelly Cup league championships, joining Hampton Roads (1991-92), Toledo (1993-94), Allen (2015-16) and Colorado (2017-18).

And then, Bang! Poof went the season, in virtually every sport across Canada and the United States.

Call it the lost season, and nobody knows that more than the Growlers themselves, who still remain heartbroken to this day.

“It’s still definitely disappointing,” said Growlers forward Marcus Power this week. “We thought we had a special group again. We were seeing a lot of the same traits we had last year with a championship team.”

The highlight of the otherwise bleak season (bleak, in terms of the way things wound up) was the new ECHL home-ice win-streak standard set by Newfoundland, one which ran from Oct. 19 to Feb. 14.

That included 19-straight victories at Mile One Centre, beating a record dating back to 1994-95 by the South Carolina Stingrays, who won 18 straight.

How good were the Growlers during that period of time? Newfoundland had beaten seven different teams during the streak. In the 18 wins, the Growlers outscored the opposition 86-43, exactly a 2:1 ratio. In 11 of the wins, Newfoundland scored five or more goals.

The Growlers were also pretty good on the road during the streak, going 12-6-1 in away games since Nov. 8.

“I don’t know if there was a defining point in the season,” Power said, “but the win streak was definitely up there.

“But the funny thing is we didn’t really talk about it a lot. I don’t think coach (John) Snowden would bring it up much at all after each win. We have such a winning culture after Day 1 last year … we have that culture after every game, after every practice, every day at the rink.

“Having that each and every day is why we have the success that we do.

“It would be hard to pinpoint one moment, but definitely after that win streak we realized how good we could be, how good we were at home, obviously keeping in mind how important home ice was at home in the playoffs.”

The Growlers thrived this season, despite battling their share of injuries, especially on defence. On top of that, rookie rearguards Joe Duszak and Mac Hollowell saw considerable with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Veteran defenceman Michael Kapla was also called up.

“But we had guys come in, like Kyle Froese (from Pensacola of the Southern Pro league), who did outstanding work,” said Power, who finished with 24 goals and 26 assists in 51 games this season.

“A lot of guys like Zach (O’Brien) and (Brady) Ferguson (the team’s top point-getter with 24 goals and 63 points in 57 games) were really starting to find their game down the stretch when it mattered.

“(Justin) Brazeau, too,” he said of the ECHL all-rookie team member with Duszak. “ It’s really sad to see the season end this way. We’re pretty heartbroken about it.”

Of course, it wasn’t just a lost season for the pros.

Tyler Boland of St. John’s was named the University of New Brunswick’s athlete of the year after leading the Reds to a third straight AUS men’s hockey championship. He led the country in scoring with 20 goals and 28 assists, and the third-year forward was named a first-team AUS All-Star and first-team All-Canadian. — UNB photo
Tyler Boland of St. John’s was named the University of New Brunswick’s athlete of the year after leading the Reds to a third straight AUS men’s hockey championship. He led the country in scoring with 20 goals and 28 assists, and the third-year forward was named a first-team AUS All-Star and first-team All-Canadian. — UNB photo

Here in the Canadian university hockey ranks, the University of New Brunswick Reds won their third straight Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey championship, and were again led by St. John’s native Tyler Boland.

Boland was later named UNB’s athlete of the year, after leading the country in scoring with 20 goals and 28 assists. The third-year forward was named a first-team AUS All-Star and first-team All-Canadian.

In the AUS playoffs, Boland added three goals and five assists as the Reds went 5-1.

It was a lost season for UNB as U Sports, the governing body for university sports in Canada, cancelled the 2020 national women’s and men’s hockey championships shortly afterwards.

The Reds were entering these nationals as the defending champs, winners of two of the past three Canadian championships (UNB also won in 2016-17).

It’s been quite a run for Boland since he finished up his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career. In the three years since joining UNB, he’s won a conference championship each season, and the Canadian title last year.

It’s hard to deem a world junior championship a lost year, but Dawson Mercer of Bay Roberts did have a little disappointment given the way his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season ended.

Mercer had a big year, winning the world junior gold medal for Canada, and starring in the CIBC Canada Russia Series and the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

The disappointment came after the world juniors. After piling up 42 points in 26 games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Mercer was traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, where he accumulated another 18 points in 16 outings as the Sags loaded up for a run at the President’s Cup league championship.

That was until the remainder of the QMJHL regular season and playoffs were cancelled last month.

All is not lost, however. Most NHL Draft pundits have Mercer pegged to go in the first round of the 2020 Draft.

Alex Newhook’s first collegiate hockey campaign may have been cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the list of his end-of-the-season awards is quite long.

The 19-year-old forward from St. John's is the NCAA Hockey East rookie of the year after a freshman season at Boston College that saw him register 42 points on 19 goals and 23 assists in 34 games with the Eagles.

He tied for the BC lead in both goals and points, and was tops in the conference in rookie scoring.

Newhook led all NCAA freshmen in goals (19), game-winners (4) and shorthanded tallies (3).

Newhook was also named a Hockey East second-team all-star and unanimous selection to the conference's all-rookie team.

In addition to the conference honours, both US College Hockey Online (USCHO) and College Hockey News named Newhook their choice as overall NCAA rookie of the year.

He was also named to USCHO's second all-NCAA team.

A first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Newhook started slowly at BC, with just a goal in his first six games, but by season's end, he was one of the hottest players in the nation, finishing on a 12-game points streak, longest in the Hockey East in 2019-20, before the remainder of the season was cancelled.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email robin.short@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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