A new chapter in professional hockey in St. John’s begins as the Newfoundland Growlers, the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs take to the ice for their Inaugural Season. While the league is new to many local hockey fans, there are several familiar names, including five Newfoundlander’s.
Eamon McAdam, the only goaltender under an NHL contract will look to be the go-to guy between the pipes for the Growlers this season. A third-year pro, acquired in July from the New York Islanders for rugged forward Matt Martin, McAdam sports a 24-13-3 record in 46 career ECHL games with the Missouri Mavericks and Worcester Railers. He has also appeared in 36 AHL games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, going 20-11-0. Michael Garteig, the 26-year-old Prince George, BC native joins the Growlers after his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks expired, is also entering his third professional season. He has a career 23-16-3 record in the ECHL with the Alaska Aces and Kalamazoo Wings. He had a brief stint with the AHL’s Utica Comets going 0-4-1, and even saw some time as the Vancouver Canucks’ backup.
The blue line will be anchored by 34-year-old Bonavista native Adam Pardy. Pardy brings 342 regular season NHL games to the Growlers, and spent last season playing for Frolunda in Sweden, where he was teammates with the first overall selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Rasmus Dahlin.
Other veterans on the blue line are Goulds native James Melindy and Alex Gudbranson. Melindy is entering his sixth professional season, and brings a physical edge to the Growlers, putting up 583 penalty minutes in 236 ECHL games. A third-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2012, Melindy has also appeared in 60 AHL games. Gudbranson is entering his fifth pro season, and is one of the few carry-overs from the Orlando Solar Bears – the former ECHL affiliate of the Leafs. Gudbranson is a big body at 6’2”, 229 pounds, and has 157 ECHL games on his resume.
Rounding out the experienced defenceman are Stefan Leblanc, Evan Neugold, and tryout Andrew Darrigo. Leblanc is entering his second professional season, but spent his entire rookie season with the Laval Rocket of the AHL, posting 10 points in 56 games. Neugold played 27 games in the ECHL last season between the Adirondack Thunder and South Carolina Stingrays, posting four points. Darrigo spent all last season with the Birmingham Bulls of the SPHL, putting up six assists in 51 games, and led the team in penalty minutes with 112, The Oakville, Ontario native has 41 games of ECHL experience between the Brampton Beast and Missouri Mavericks.
Kristians Rubins and Kyle Thacker are both rookies entering their first professional season. Rubins, a 6’4” native of Riga, Latvia, joins the Growlers after two seasons with Prince George in the WHL where he put up 51 points in 109 games. Rubins also suited up for Latvia in the 2018 World Hockey Championships where he had two points in 8 games. Thacker turns pro after a four-year NCAA career in Potsdam, New York, where he donned the “C” in his final season. The 6’3” Mississauga native also appeared in four games last season with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
Zach O’Brien and Marcus Power, both from St. John’s, will look to be big contributors to the Growlers offence this season. O’Brien, the oldest forward at 26 years old, spent most of last season with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL, posting 23 points in 43 games. O’Brien also won a Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs in 2015. Power is fresh off a four-year stint at the University of Prince Edward Island where he posted 107 points in 110 games. Head Coach Ryane Clowe can only hope the two rekindle the chemistry they had back in their major midget days, where O’Brien and Power were teammates.
Aside from O’Brien, only Semyon Babintsev and Kristian Pospisil have a season of ECHL experience under their belt. Babintsev, a native of Moscow, Russia, appeared in 22 games with the Utah Grizzlies last season, posting 12 points. He has also had stints in Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Czech Republic since turning pro in 2015. Pospisil, a 6’2” winger from Slovakia, had 26 points in 51 games last season with the Orlando Solar Bears. He also brings a physical element to the Growlers, posting 75 penalty minutes with the Solar Bears, and 111 in 48 games while in the USHL.
Coming from the Canadian junior hockey system are Matt Bradley, Giorgio Estephan, and Ryan Moore. Bradley, a fifth-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2015, is coming off back-to-back 30 goal seasons in the WHL. Estephan, a sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015 joins the Growlers after having three straight 30 goal seasons in the WHL. The Edmonton native also brings leadership traits to the Growlers, having worn a letter in his last three seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, including the “C” last season. Moore, the smallest player on the club coming in at 5’7”, turns pro after putting up 237 points in 321 regular season OHL games with Windsor, Plymouth, Flint and Hamilton. The Michigan native also suited up in 6 games with the Orlando Solar Bears during the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Brady Ferguson, Josh Kestner, Derian Plouffe, and Scott Pooley are entering their first pro season fresh out of the NCAA ranks. Ferguson is coming off a very impressive four-year collegiate career at Robert Morris University where he amassed 167 points in 152 games. His best season came in 2016-17, where he had 58 points in 38 games. The 24-year-old native of Texas also suited up in five games for the Toronto Marlies at the end of last season, where he had four assists. Kestner is coming off a breakout year in the 2017-18 season which saw him light the lamp 24 times in 37 games, compared to his previous three NCAA seasons where he had 20 goals total. He also had one goal in three appearances with the Toronto Marlies last season. Plouffe enters his first professional season after four years with Niagra University, one of which he was captain. Last season he was a point-per-game player, with 35 in 35, and appeared in ten games with the Toronto Marlies, recording three assists. Pooley wrapped up his four-year career at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester in style as he was named the recipient of the Hines Award given to the most improved NCAA player in the New England region. He had 34 points in 36 games in his final season, and also tallied one goal in five games with the Toronto Marlies.
Rounding out the forward group are tryouts Maxim Mizyurin, Jimmy Soper, and Scott Trask. Mizyurin, a 6’3” native of Omsk, Russia, spent the last two seasons with Val d’Or in the QMJHL where he had 75 points in 94 games. He also played two seasons in the MHL, Russia’s junior league. Soper, who has Newfoundland roots, had 30 points in 24 games with Danville of the FHL, and 10 points in 20 games with the Macon Mayhem of the SPHL. Soper played one season at Wilfrid Laurier University before turning pro. Trask, a 25-year-old native of Bonavista played his first year pro last season with the Huntsville Havoc of the SPHL after wrapping up a four-year career at Acadia University. Trask had 180 penalty minutes in 52 games for the Havoc, good for second in the league.
With a nice mixture of youth, speed, and grit – but also some very important veteran players – the Newfoundland Growlers look to make an impact in their inaugural season in the ECHL, which starts Friday night at Mile One Centre against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, the Florida Everblades.