Brian Rogers returns to play-by-play duties for a game that will see ECHL team wear St. John’s Maple Leafs throwback jerseys
Come next spring, it will be a full 15 years since the St. John’s Maple Leafs skated in the American Hockey League.
Nevertheless, Brian Rogers has plenty of at-the-ready remembrances of AHL Leafs players, coaches and staff members, as well as the team’s highs and lows during its 14-year existence.
Expect to hear some of them tonight.
Rogers, a member of Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame, provided the play-by-play call for the Leafs for a decade, and he will get another chance to do so as the Newfoundland Growlers wrap up a four-game homestand at Mile One Centre.
The Growlers will be wearing throwback St. John’s Maple Leafs jerseys for their matchup against the Worcester Railers, and Rogers, who these days normally provides the colour commentary to Chris Ballard’s play-by-play of ECHL games at Mile One, will be reverting back to his old duties as the team garbs itself in blue and white temporarily (although the Growlers may wear the Leafs jerseys for another later in the season).
This won't be Rogers' first play-by-play call of a Growlers' game this season — he also did Friday night's wld contest, which ended in a 7-5 win by Newfoundland over Worcester.
The difference might be that Rogers will be describing the home side as the St. John’s Maple Leafs for this contest.
“It looks like that’s the plan,” said Rogers Friday from the press-box perch he’ll have tonight.
“ButI think you might hear me say ‘Growlers’ a few time now and then. It’s just habit and I’ll probably won’t be able to help it.
“Actually, there have been times I’ve said ‘IceCaps’ when referring to the Growlers,” he added with a chuckle, alluding to the AHL’s second incarnation in St. John’s.
Rogers was also the St. John’s IceCaps play-by-play voice for all six seasons of that team.
The jerseys the Growlers will wear are in the style of the early days of the AHL Leafs, and although Rogers didn’t become the club’s official broadcast voice until 1994, his first call involving the team came during its inaugural season in 1991-92. That’s when he took over behind the mic for original play-by-play man George McLaren for a single mid-December road game in Halifax.
His first game as the full-time broadcaster was also on the road, in October of 1994 at Harbour Station in Saint John, N.B.
In both cases, St. John’s was a decisive winner (6-1 over the Halifax Citadels and 10-2 over the Saint John Flames), and Rogers is hoping he might be able to call a lot of goals for this short-term edition of the Leafs tonight.
But while they were winners of what were those milestone first games for Rogers, the AHL Leafs never won their last games of the season. They came closest in that first year, falling to the Adirondack Red Wings in an infamous 1992 Calder Cup final that saw the visiting team win all seven games, including the deciding contest at Memorial Stadium.
But while the Leafs never delivered an ultimate winner to St. John’s, they did provide some winning personalities.
Rogers became particularly close to the Kevin McClelland after the four-time Stanley Cup champion with Edmonton, who was one of the AHL Leafs’ original players, returned to St. John’s as an assistant coach.
“You certainly can’t forget ‘Juice,’ because that’s exactly what he is, unforgettable,” said Rogers, who was famed for handing out nicknames.
McClelland was widely known by the simple moniker “Mac,” but Roger dubbed him “Beetlejuice’” after the Michael Keaton movie character.
"That’s the thing about the St. John’s Maple Leafs … lots of good teams, including some great ones, but never a winner. But it’s always going to be the people with those teams — players and non-players — I’ll be remembering. And I certainly will be remembering them when I see those uniforms down on the ice.”
For Rogers, there are less-effervescent ex-Leafs who are easy to recall too, including one who went on to play 540 NHL games after two-plus seasons in St. John’s.
“I have such a soft spot for Kevyn Adams,” said Rogers of the former first-round pick who is now vice-president of business development for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“Kevyn was a very good player, obviously, but the biggest thing is that he was such a well-rounded human being.
“He was someone who it was a pleasure to see every day,, and there were lots of others.
“There were (former captains) Guy (Lehoux) and Nathan Dempsey, of course, and Houser (Bobby House), all good hockey players and first-class people.
‘I don’t want to leave anyone out, and I know I am, but that’s a good thing, because it means there were so many of outstanding guys.
“And we still get reminded of those teams when we see (former St. John’s Leafs) on TV — (Carlo) Colaiacovo’s a commentator on TSN these days, for example — and we think about them when we remember Bird (the late Greg Smyth), who we lost just over a year ago. He made such an impression when he came here and he left such a void when he left us.”
Of all the Leafs teams whose games were called by Rogers, the one that sticks out in the “shoud have been” department is the 1996-97 version, coached by Mark Hunter in his only year in St. John’s.
That Baby Leafs lost key offensive players Brandon Convery and Kelly Fairchild to mid-season call-ups to Toronto and No. 1 goalie Don Beaupre, who had been seeking a trade to somewhere closer to his Minnesota home, got his wish in March when he was dealt to Utah of the International Hockey League. Nevertheless, the AHL Leafs had a real contending team as they entered the Calder Cup playoffs, dispatching Binghamton in the first round.
But it came at the cost of injuries. By the time St. John’s came to an end of what would be a to-the-distance second-round series against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the team had rearguards Dempsey, Smyth, Jamie Heward, David Cooper and team-leading scorer Brian Wiseman on the sidelines, and once again, their season and hopes ended with a Game 7 loss at Memorial Stadium.
“When you consider the players we were missing, the four top defenceman and the leading scorer, it’s a real shame to think about what they would have done if all of them, even if just some of them, had been healthy enough to play.
“That’s the thing about the St. John’s Maple Leafs … lots of good teams, including some great ones, but never a winner.
“But it’s always going to be the people with those teams — players and non-players — I’ll be remembering.
“And I certainly will be remembering them when I see those uniforms down on the ice.”