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Fan base lower than expected
The Newfoundland Growlers have gotten off to a quick start in their first season in the ECHL, but the expansion team has been a little slow catching on with its fan base.
The Growlers opened with a bang, drawing a sell-out crowd of 6,287 for its home opener, a 3-2 win over the Florida Everblades last month at Mile One Centre.
That win came on a Friday, and though attendance was down a bit for the rematch against the Everblades the next night, the Growlers still drew 5,325 in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Florida.
Since then, the New Newfoundland squad has played a pair of Tuesday-Wednesday mid-week matchups – sandwiched by a lengthy eight-game, 18-day road trip – and attendance has been down.
Following opening weekend, the Growlers played host to the Adirondack Thunder for two games, and drew announced attendances of 3,043 and 3,473. Just this past Tuesday and Wednesday, the Growlers and Worcester Railers hooked up at Mile One, drawing 2,618 and 2,709 fans.
Newfoundland swept Worcester, stretching its win streak to four games. Entering tonight’s first of back-to-back games against the Manchester Monarchs, the Growlers lead the ECHL with a 9-5 record.
"I suppose it is disappointing, especially the way the team is playing," said Growlers president Glenn Stanford.
In fairness, mid-week games were traditionally a tough sell for the St. John’s IceCaps in that team’s final three or four seasons of existence in the American Hockey League. When you couple that with the fact the Growlers’ season-ticket base is lower than the IceCaps, lower attendance is the result.
"Our mid-week attendance with the IceCaps was around 3,500-4,000, and that’s where we’d like to see the Growlers," Stanford said.
"When you don’t have the season-ticket base, you have to rely on group sales and walk-ups. It’s as simple as that."
For many hockey fans, it’s been a case of wanting to check out the ECHL product before deciding whether or not to invest in season tickets.
"We think it’s pretty exciting hockey, and the games are exciting to watch," Stanford said. "And that’s the feedback we’ve been receiving. The hockey is entertaining, and that’s reflective of where we are in the standings."
With the Monarchs in town for a weekend home series, before Newfoundland hits the road to Pennsylvania and Florida for another five road games, attendance is expected to spike.
Part of the Growlers’ attraction so far is the play of the all-rookie line of Brady Ferguson, Josh Kestner and Giorgio Estephan, which has been tearing up the ECHL of late.
Ferguson notched a goal and two assists Wednesday in a 5-2 win over the Railers, giving him multiple points in four straight contests, and increasing his points total to 18, tops in the league.
Kestner has seven goals – including one Wednesday — and three helpers in the eight games he’s appeared in since joining the Growlers, and Estephan, the former Lethbridge Hurricanes Western Hockey League captain who also scored and picked up an assist Wednesday, is fifth in ECHL scoring with nine goals and seven assists in 14 games.
The Growlers lead the league with 48 goals, and their 158 penalty minute trail on the Toledo Walleye.
Defenceman Stefan Leblanc was held off the scoresheet Wednesday night, snapping a four-game points streak where he had a goal and five assists … There is a chance Zach O’Brien, who won a Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs when that team won the 2015 AHL championship, could play this weekend. O’Brien has missed the past nine games to injury. Same goes for Sam Babintsev, who has missed the last three. Babintsev scored in the Growlers first three games, but has scored only one in his last eight. Defencemen Alex Gudbranson and Adam Pardy definitely won’t play. Gudbranson has missed all but three games, and Pardy has yet to play. Good news with Pardy, however, is the former NHLer from Bonavista is skating in practice … Monarchs leading scorer Tony Cameranesi (7-5-12) is a former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick (fifth round, 130th overall in 2011) who split the 2016-17 season with the AHL Marlies and ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, and last season between the Monarchs and AHL Utica Comets … If the name Cory Ward rings a bell to hockey fans, it should. The Monarchs forward appeared in eight games for the 2015-16 St. John’s IceCaps … and Adam Pardy definitely won’t play. Gudbranson has missed all but three games, and Pardy has yet to play. Good news with Pardy, however, is the former NHLer from Bonavista is skating in practice … Monarchs leading scorer Tony Cameranesi (7-5-12) is a former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick (fifth round, 130th overall in 2011) who split the 2016-17 season with the AHL Marlies and ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, and last season between the Monarchs and AHL Utica Comets … If the name Cory Ward rings a bell to hockey fans, it should. The Monarchs forward appeared in eight games for the 2015-16 St. John’s IceCaps …