Defending ECHL champions take on Reading Royals at Mile One tonight in the rubber match of their season-opening series
So, John Snowden, your team just won in overtime Saturday night, climbing out of a 2-0 deficit 20 minutes in, and this coming on the heels of a stinging 6-5 ECHL season-opening loss before nearly 5,800 Newfoundland Growlers the night before in downtown St. John’s.
All things considered, you must feel pretty good, huh?
“Lot of work to do ,” gruffed the Growlers coach, moments after rookie defenceman Mac Hollowell won it for Newfoundland at Mile One Centre, on a shot that slipped through to the Reading Royals goal for a 3-2 OT decision.
“We started really slow, real sloppy and disorganized.”
When you’ve been around hockey long enough, you know coaches are sometimes a hard lot to please.
“We’re still a ways from where we want to be, but it’s early and it’s baby steps right now. But we have a ton of really good players, a ton of really intelligent players, so they’re going to be able to figure it out quickly.” — John Snowden
In fairness, Snowden was probably still a bit cheezed over Friday’s first game, which saw Newfoundland cough up 3-0 and 5-4 leads.
It was the Growlers’ newcomers who did the heavy lifting Saturday. In addition to the rookie Hollowell, Patrick Munson stopped 39 shots to earn his first North American pro win. Munson, from Minnesota via a couple of universities, played in the British Elite league last season with Nottingham.
The split sets up a delicious third game with the Pennsylvania-based Royals in a rare three-game set that clews up 7 o’clock tonight at Mile One.
Hollowell, a fourth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs (118th overall in 2018), just completed a fine five-year Ontario Hockey League career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
After leading the Growlers to the Kelly Cup ECHL championship last season, and having been around pro hockey locker rooms for eons prior to that, Snowden knows as much as anyone Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And while he may have come off as a bit disappointed with the Growlers’ start Saturday, he did like the way his charges responded.
“I think we started to get a little desperate, which is a good situation for us, to learn how to play in that desperate mode all the time,” he said.
“At the end of the second period, you could see our game start to come and then in the third, we played with that desperation which was getting into the hard areas and creating turnovers.
“We’re still a ways from where we want to be, but it’s early and it’s baby steps right now.”
It’s a long 72-game season, and Snowden understands it’s one thing to be going through the doldrums of training camp with a few meaningless exhibition games, and then turning things up for real with the onset of a new season.
“But we have a ton of really good players, a ton of really intelligent players, so they’re going to be able to figure it out quickly,” said Snowden.
“If you look at some of the new guys who are in here, they’re really, really young (Hollowell is 20, Belarussian Sergei Sapego via the Western Hockey League is 19 and big Justin Brazeau is 21).
“Good to see them get their confidence. Take Hollowell, he’s a guy — him and Joe Duszak —who can be up in the rush and looking for offence. We didn’t have a lot of those guys last year.”
Newfoundland’s Matt Bradley scored for the second night in a row, at 12:37 of the third period, to tie the score at 2-2. Aaron Luchuk also scored for the Growlers.
The Royals got goals from Matthew Gaudreau and Frank Dichiara.
“It’s always important to rebound, and that was the message (Saturday),” Snowden said. “We have to do things harder, and we have to rebound. It’s a 72-game season, and we fully expect our highs and lows.
“If you look back on last year, we won one and lost one the first 10 games of the season (after starting 5-5, the Growlers won nine of 10). Then we finally figured out our game and started to play from there.
“I don’t expect it to be much different.
“We have a really, really good group of players, a lot of really good people.”
The newest of the group is the 24-year-old Munson, who joined the team two weeks ago. The Minnesotan was part of three different NCAA Division 1 programs — at Vermont, Denver and Michigan Tech — before turning pro last year in England.
“We fought through a tough start Friday night,” said Munson, who sat and watched Maksim Zhukov allow six goals on 24 shots, “but I know I have a good team in front of me.
“I knew if I could come up with a couple of saves, we’d be okay.
“As a goalie, it’s about weathering a storm and giving the boys a chance.”
After tonight’s game, the Growlers remain at Mile One this coming weekend for a pair of games against the Brampton Beast 7 o’clock Friday and Saturday nights.