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BRENDAN McCARTHY: After being drained by Marlies, Newfoundland Growlers have to suck it up

Giorgio Estephan is the co-scoring leader for the Newfoundland Growlers, but recently has been a fixture in the lineup of the AHL's Toronto Marlies, whose roster includes seven players who were regular fixtures in the Growlers' lineup during the 2019-20 ECHL season. — Toronto Marlies photo
Giorgio Estephan is the co-scoring leader for the Newfoundland Growlers, but recently has been a fixture in the lineup of the AHL's Toronto Marlies, whose roster includes seven players who were regular fixtures in the Growlers' lineup during the 2019-20 ECHL season. — Toronto Marlies Photo

This is the price that's sometimes must be paid for what’s been mostly a beneficial affiliation

For a season and the half, the Newfoundland Growlers have benefited greatly from their affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs, so much so that some other ECHL teams were chafed about the Growlers receiving so many players on either NHL entry-level contracts with the Leafs or American Hockey League deals with the Toronto Marlies.

The perks are two-fold. It’s meant a Growlers roster that’s been mostly populated by players deemed — at least contractually — to be of at least AHL quality. And since the cap charge for players on AHL deals assigned to ECHL teams is a bargain, Newfoundland has been able to use the savings to offer better-than-average ECHL contracts to players who normally might not be seen at this level, defenceman Adam Pardy from last year’s Kelly Cup-winning team being an example.

But there was always the potential for the relationship to take a particular toll on the Growlers. Roster shortfalls higher up the organizational chain mean there is a draw from Newfoundland; an injury on the Leafs usually means a call-up from the Marlies, who will, in turn, promote someone from the Growlers.

That player-movement dynamic has been pretty much a constant since Newfoundland joined the ECHL, but has never pushed the needle into the red quite like it’s done recently.

The Marlies, pummelled by injuries and recalls to the NHL parent team, currently have seven players who could be labelled as having been regulars in Newfoundland during the first half of the season. And they’re needed. All seven played in a Marlies’ game earlier this week and there were more than a few shifts when the five Toronto skaters on the ice were players who had been promoted from the ECHL.

Of course, other AHL teams can have such requirements, but since none of them have as many contracted players with their ECHL affiliates, they’ll usually bring in reinforcements from a number of ECHL teams, not drain one well in particular.

Beacuse that’s not the case here means there will be a price to be paid, at least occasionally, for the pact the Growlers have made with the Maple Leafs. And if Newfoundland happily touts itself as an important part of Toronto’s development system, then these are the times when the team — and its fans — must grin and bear the burden that can come with the role.

After a Mile One stand consisting of four games against the Maine Mariners that began in glory with an ECHL-record 19th straight home-ice victory, then finished with the hobbled Growlers limping through three straight losses, they’ll look to right themselves on the road.

Tonight, Newfoundland (36-14-1) begins a five-game road trip in Reading against the Royals, who have been hot of late, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games to move to within eight points of the North Division-leading Growlers. What’s more, Reading (30-14-5) has two games in hand.

While Newfoundland must be sick of Maine after the unusual four-game series at Mile One (a by-product of the Manchester Monarchs’ sudden departure from the ECHL after the league’s 2019-20 schedule was finalized), they’ll come up against the Mariners again Sunday afternoon in Portland.

That contest will mark the conclusion of the first part of what is really a two-part road trip. After finishing up in Maine, the Growlers will head to Florida, where they’ll enjoy some sunshine.

That’s not to say they will get much time on the beach since the team — as has been the case too often this season — will play three games in three days, against the Florida Everblades, Orlando Solar Bears and Jacksonville Icemen — from Feb. 28 to March 1.

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telybrendan

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