It’s been a season of adjustments for everyone around the hockey world, and former Growlers sniper and current member of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies Scott Pooley is no exception.
Currently approaching the midway point of his first season as a full-time AHLer, the Granger, Indiana native has collected a pair of goals and three assists for five points in 14 games played and remains as positive and upbeat as ever, about his squad and his future, despite the challenging circumstances surrounding this season.
“Honestly, we’re all just thankful and excited to be playing and to have that opportunity,” Pooley said.
“We didn’t know if we would be playing at all this season, so to have the chance to play 36 games, it’s exciting. We get to do what we love. It’s a weird year, with new protocols and testing and everything, but we get to play hockey.”
Like the NHL, the American Hockey League is operating an All-Canadian division, meaning Pooley and the Marlies face the same handful of teams over and over, which creates its own unique set of challenges.
“Every game is in division, so every night is a four-point night,” Pooley said.
“You know what you’re getting into. You know what to expect, in a sense. You don’t have to worry about as much pre-scouting. You’re not preparing for a new team every night. You get to know teams pretty quickly, which is both good and bad. There are going to be ups and downs and they’re going to come quick. You definitely have a heightened sense of awareness because you’re playing teams so often.”
Fans in Newfoundland will no doubt remember Pooley as a high-octane player who fed off the energy of the crowds at Mile One Centre, so adjusting to the lack of fans in arenas across Canada admittedly took Pooley a day or two.
“The first few games were really weird. It didn’t feel like you expect a game to feel at this level,” Pooley said.
“But you settle in. You don’t notice it anymore. The season is going by quickly. We are one game away from our halfway point. It’s challenging, but I’d rather be playing with no fans than not playing.”
Pooley is one of several Growler graduates who have moved up the ranks this past offseason and he is quick to admit that he and his teammates have their work cut out for them in terms of impressing a new coaching staff as well as adjusting to the new team, new league and new Covid restrictions.
"It’s been a unique year both physically and mentally,” Pooley said.
“You’re a little more isolated, you’re away from your family and your significant others. There’s not much to do. We aren’t able to explore the city like we normally would. This year has presented a lot of unique challenges. I’m happy with the way I have been playing. I just have to keep going and help the team any way I can. I just want to continue to establish myself and show that I can be a good player in this league moving forward.”
The Marlies’ opening night roster featured a whopping nine former Growlers and Pooley was quick to applaud the Maple Leafs’ development pipeline for allowing a seamless transition between the ranks for him and his teammates.
“The development model that the Leafs and Kyle Dubas have put in place is awesome,” Pooley said.
“They want to develop you and give you the best chance for success. Obviously, that falls on the player at the end of the day, but they give you all the tools and opportunities you need to succeed. It’s second to none. It’s proven that it works when you look at Mac Hollowell on the taxi squad right now with Kristians Rubins. There’s a lot of us former Growlers up here right now. Brazeau, Conrad, Duszak, Elynuik. It goes to show that what they’re doing works.”
A large proponent of the success of the development pipeline is coaching. From the Maple Leafs down to the Growlers, Pooley was able to identify a common bond that unifies the organization's coaches, including Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, Marlies Head Coach Greg Moore and Growlers Head Coach John Snowden.
“They are different guys but they are all so passionate about the game and love being around the game and care about their players,” Pooley said.
“It goes to show how the organization is and how they hire their staff. We have a great coaching staff here and we had a great tremendous coaching staff in Newfoundland. I got the chance to play for Sheldon Keefe a little bit, so I know the Leafs have an incredible staff as well. All these teams have coaches that care and who want to win. It fuels us from the top down.”
In spite of the challenges this season has thrown at Pooley and our former Growlers, there have been many great moments shared along the way and one game in particular sticks out in Pooley’s mind.
On March 6, the Marlies squared off against a Stockton Heat squad that featured a familiar face on the bench. The man who scored the Kelly Cup clinching goal, Giorgio Estephan, was now a member of the Heat, and Pooley and company made sure to have some fun with the first-ever AHL meeting between former Kelly Cup champion Growlers.
“It was cool,” Pooley laughs.
“It was a little weird seeing Gio on the other side of the red line, but it was fun. Hudson Elynuik and I had some fun with him. We were going at him a little bit during warmups. On the ice, you get a sentence in here or there too. It’s always nice to see those guys. It’s such a special relationship winning with those guys. Any time you get the chance to see somebody you haven’t seen in a while, it’s always fun.”
The sky is the limit for the talented Pooley and while he may not don the gold, white and black colors of a Growlers uniform any time soon, he admits that he takes a part of Newfoundland and his Growlers experience with him everywhere he goes.
“It was my first real taste of pro hockey,” Pooley said of his time in St. John’s.
“Especially this year, having to deal with the highs and lows that you feel as a younger player, I’m able to work through that better from having gone through what we did in Newfoundland. Maturity-wise, it’s helped a ton. From my time with the Growlers, I’ve learned to just enjoy it, truthfully. Especially from the playoffs that year. Just enjoy it and take it as it comes. That’s especially true for this year with all of the uncertainties. The season could be taken away in a moments notice. Just enjoy the opportunity you have to be around the guys and be thankful. I try to enjoy every moment I can.”