The Newfoundland Growlers turned heads across the ECHL in their Inaugural Season this year, sporting a record of 43-21-4-4 – good for 94 points and the North Division Title - but for the players inside the room, they knew from day one of training camp that the Growlers were built for success.
“With the systems we have in place, and the culture around the locker room, we’ve always said that winning is the number one priority”, said Growlers captain James Melindy following a practice before the club embarked on their final road trip of the regular season. “For the majority of the year we’ve been at the top of our division, and we’re hoping to keep that success rolling into the playoffs”.
Melindy believes that the fans embraced having professional hockey back in St. John’s and played a role in the team’s success, but admits the team will need fan support more than ever now in the playoffs.
“We’ve had a sold-out crowd a few times this season, and it makes Mile One a fun place to play”, said Melindy. “Playoff hockey is a totally different atmosphere, so we’re hoping for big crowds to help us out along the way and make it intimidating for the visiting teams coming in”.
For Melindy, being the captain along with playing at home means there’s an added incentive to performing well this post-season.
“Every year you set out to win no matter where you are or what league you’re in, but obviously being at home and playing in front of your friends and family is a unique situation, and it would be nice to celebrate winning with them in your hometown”.
The Growlers ice a very young roster, and are inexperienced in terms of the playoffs, with only six players having played into April professionally, but assistant captain Alex Gudbranson who won the Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies last season doesn’t believe that the inexperience will play a factor in the playoffs.
“Playoff hockey at this level is exciting because it’s played with such a high intensity and high pace. There’s no doubt that it’s a gruelling schedule, but I think every guy in the room knows what’s ahead”, said the rugged defenceman. “The way I look at it is pain is temporary. The taste of victory is a thousand times better than the pain and fatigue you’ll feel during a series”.
James Melindy is another Growler with a deep playoff run under his belt, having played in the 2016 Kelly Cup Finals with the Wheeling Nailers, but the Goulds native ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, as the Nailers were defeated by the Allen Americans in six games, and that feeling isn’t lost on him as he enters the playoffs for the first time since that series.
“I know what it’s like to be on the losing side of things, and it sucks”, admitted the captain. “I don’t want to be there anymore”.
Aside from the players entering their first professional playoff series, John Snowden is also heading to the playoffs for the first time as a Head Coach, and Alex Gudbranson says that’s something the Growlers can rally around.
“Snowy has been incredible this season”, said Gudbranson. “There was never a change in pace or intensity when he took over during the coaching change, and to be honest it might have even picked up since he’s come in because this is his first crack at it and he has something to prove”.
“As a first-year head coach, he’s a guy that you root for and it would be nice for him to have success to really solidify himself as a top coach at this level”.
The Growlers have guaranteed home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, which is a big advantage for the club as they went 24-10-1-1 at Mile One Centre this season, and while the team understands how successful their regular season was, Gudbranson and the rest of the Growlers are aware the real test begins Friday night against the Brampton Beast.
“We know the way we’re capable of playing, and we’re looking to do big things”.