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Catching up with Josh Kestner

Wednesday, April 14th
Catching up with Josh Kestner

With the Growlers opting out of the 2020-21 season due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Growlers alumni have spread themselves out all over the world to varying degrees of success.

Of all the former Growlers dotted throughout the hockey world, Huntsville, Alabama native and Kelly Cup champion Josh Kestner may be having the best season of all.

Kestner is the lone Growler to take his talents to Finland, where he has been suiting up for TPS Turku in the country’s top professional league, Liiga.

While Kestner admits it’s been a big season of adjustments, it hasn’t dampened his ability to rack up points and hardware. The 27-year-old righty appeared in 59 games, and collected 24 goals and 25 assists and won the league’s ‘Gold Helmet’, awarded to the league’s outstanding skater as voted on by the players themselves.

Not bad for a third-year pro playing in his first season overseas.

“There has been a lot of new experiences for me this year,” Kestner said.

“Living in a different country on a different continent, different lifestyle and with Covid, there are a lot new protocols in place. But it’s been a fun year. I’ve had a great group of guys that have been very welcoming. That was my biggest worry when I got here. I had never played overseas; I didn’t know how it was going to be. I was surprised they were so welcoming.”

The resilient Kestner has been able to overcome the many distractions this season has brought with it and has found major success on the ice, much of which he attributes to the league fitting his playing style to a tee.

“I’ve had a relatively good year. Not as good as I want,” Kestner said modestly.

“There’s always that hockey player mentality where you’re never satisfied. You always want more. I think I took the same things I did in Newfoundland and tried to transfer it over here. The ice is bigger. I have a little bit more room to use my speed. The guys are a lot more skilled and they are really tough on their sticks. The league is a lot less physical than the ECHL, which is nice and fits my style of play.”

To find this level of success in a foreign country in your first season abroad is an impressive feat and requires an extreme level of commitment, skill and support and Kestner is fortunate that he hasn’t had to go through this journey alone.

Back in June before the season began, Kestner popped the question to his then-girlfriend, a nurse/frontline worker/hero and fellow Alabaman, Maggie, and she has made the move with Josh to their new home in Finland.

The duo have certainly gone through a lot together in a short period of time, including having to learn one of the toughest languages in the world, a language even harder to understand than the heaviest Newfoundland accent.

“I do know a bit of Finnish now,” Kestner said with a laugh.

“I did some research before I came here. Finnish is like the fourth hardest language to learn in the world. I know a lot of basic things, like how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. If I’m caught in a full conversation, I’m lost.”

It’s hard to believe that it was already almost two full years ago that Kestner and his Growler teammates hoisted the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre. Even though Kestner has played and found success with several other teams since leaving St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador still owns a place in his heart.

“Man, what I’d give to be back in St. John’s,” Kestner said longingly.

“That place is a second home. It’s unbelievable. Top to bottom, Newfoundland is everything. It starts with the people and how they bring you in as family. They’re diehard hockey fans. They love to see you outside the rink. Just look at how many people came out to our parade after we won the Kelly Cup. It was the whole city. The small bars on George Street to the coaches and the staff at Mile One, the teammates I had, it was just everything there possibly could be for me in St. John’s.”

Kestner was a wide-eyed rookie when he played his first pro games as a member of the Growlers but his Newfoundland experience helped him mature, both as an individual and as a hockey player, especially in learning how to appreciate good leadership.

“I think being part of a team that has great leaders is one thing that stuck out to me from my time in Newfoundland,” he said.

“It was my first pro year. I had played college hockey and we had great leaders, but you don’t really appreciate your leaders until you reach the pro level. I think the leadership group we had with James Melindy and Adam Pardy, and all those veteran guys gave us a great leadership core. I think having them there really opened your eyes.”

As his team’s leading scorer, Kestner’s leadership skills will be put to the test as his TPS Turku club begins its playoff run later this week.

While Kestner’s focus is locked in on winning the playoff games ahead, he and his bride-to-be are planning for their future at the same time.

“As of right now, Maggie and I are frothing at the mouth trying to figure out what we want to do next season,” Kestner said excitedly.

“I’ve been talking to a few teams in the KHL. That’s an option. I talked to a few SHL teams in Sweden as well. I talked to two teams in Switzerland. Hopefully we will get an offer in the next couple of weeks. Fingers crossed for something good.”

 While a return to the Rock isn’t in the cards this season for Kestner, his fiancé Maggie introduced an interesting proposition for a few years down the line.

“Maybe you can finish your career in St. John’s”, she said, chiming in from the background.

Josh’s face lit up at the idea.

“I would be totally ok with that,” Kestner said.

“I love St. John’s. I’ll do what Adam Pardy did. I’d have no problem coming back to the Rock.”

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