It’s been a whirlwind season for former Newfoundland Growler standout Giorgio Estephan.
Beginning his season in the ECHL on a new team in Kansas City, Estephan quickly earned a promotion to the American Hockey League and played most of the season for the Stockton Heat for his first ‘full’ AHL season as a pro.
With the AHL’s Calder Cup not being awarded this year, Estephan is back in Kansas City for the squad’s playoff push, and no doubt continues to fly high in this unique 2021-22 hockey season.
“Coming into this past offseason, I was antsy to get into games,” Estephan said.
“I knew the quickest way to get into games was to come to Kansas City. I played in Kansas City for a little bit waiting on hopefully getting some time in the American League and having the ability to prove myself at that level. When the AHL season did star tup, getting the ability to go up with Stockton was a pretty cool experience. I got to be there for the entire year. I thought I had a pretty good season and it was nice to be able to play at that level and do what I can to keep being myself as a player.”
One of the caveats shared by those playing professional hockey this season is the downtime. With umpteen quarantines and lockdowns sprinkled throughout the season, Estephan found a productive way to spend his newfound free time: he began studying to become an airplane pilot.
“I’ve taken a high interest in trying to fly, like fly an airplane,” he said excitedly.
“It was something I always thought was really cool. I always wanted to be someone who was truly free, who is able to do what they want, when they want. I want to fly somewhere for lunch, just go around for a quick little trip, that always interested me.”
As luck would have it, one-day Estephan was randomly sitting next to one of his new teammates, defenseman Luke Bafia, who was already far along in his own studies to become a pilot. That inspired Estephan to take his education one step further.
“He’s just finishing up his schooling while playing professional hockey,” Estephan said of Bafia.
“So the stars just kind of aligned. I got to pick his brain and ask him all these questions. He helped me find somewhere where I could meet an instructor and take lessons and all that stuff. Its something I can look forward to on an off day. I do a lot of reading and studying. It’s big on safety and you have to learn everything.”
While his free time is spent with his nose in the books, Estephan remains primarily focused on his development as a hockey player and he believes that this unique season shared between the AHL and ECHL was a big one for his development.
“It’s definitely a different league atmosphere compared to the ECHL,” Estephan said of his season with the Stockton Heat, who played out of Calgary this year in the AHL’s Canadian Division.
“I’m still finding my groove in a different league that’s a little bit faster-paced and a little bit stronger. There is not as much time or space to work your magic with the puck like I’m used to. It took a little bit to adapt, but I think I adapted pretty well. I started to put a few good games together and progressed my way up the lineup. It was definitely a good experience. It was something I definitely needed and I needed to see it on a consistent basis and I got that at the end of the year for sure.”
While the Edmonton native enjoyed the thrill of his first full-time stint in the AHL, it took him a little bit to convince his family that playing for the affiliate of the family rival was the right move.
“When I first signed with (Calgary), it was kind of a shock to my family,” Estephan joked.
“It was pretty hilarious, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. They gave me the confidence to try to progress as a player and that’s something I’m thankful for. Being from Edmonton and growing up with the Flames as sworn enemies, that was kind of funny. Overall, it was just nice to be able to be that close to family.”
Estephan appeared in 19 AHL games this season, which places him among the leaders of Growler graduates in the AHL in games played. But Estephan’s season isn’t over yet.
Back in Kansas City to close out the season, the Mavericks are currently on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned, but Estephan has a wealth of playoff experience to draw upon from his glory days with the Growlers.
“Obviously those were exciting times,” he said of the Growlers’ playoff push two seasons ago.
“You can never forget winning a championship like that. I actually watched that clinching game a couple of times now, the whole thing. It’s nice to reminisce and see how to game actually went down. It was such an exciting time. It was great to have my dad down and experience that with the boys. It’s pretty cool.”
Estephan admits he wouldn’t be the player he is today without his Newfoundland experience and is thankful for the coaching staff and teammates that have enabled him to be the self-assured sniper we see on the ice today.
“I think confidence with the puck and knowing how to be productive is something that I really took from my time with the Growlers,” he said.
“I had the confidence to always produce and make sure I was making the right plays. Newfoundland was probably one of the top professionalized ECHL teams, running it as close as the Marlies would. That was always super nice when it came to being in Newfoundland. It wasn’t that far off of being in the American Hockey League. It kept you a little bit closer, and always progressing.”
Estephan’s career is sure to take him to many unique and interesting cities, but one thing is for sure, he will never forget his two seasons in St. John’s.
“I can't say enough about the city and what an amazing time I had living and playing there,” Estephan said.
“Every time somebody asks me how Newfoundland was or how it was playing in St. John’s, I go above and beyond when it comes to speaking out about how crazy the city was and how awesome it was and how much I enjoyed it. It’s nice to reminisce and think about all those good times in Newfoundland.”