A lot of excellent hockey players have made their way through the Newfoundland Growlers locker room since the team’s inception in 2018. With player development being a major pillar of the organization, it’s not surprising that many former Growlers have graduated to the AHL over the course of the last two seasons.
But no former Growler forward had a better AHL season in 2020-21 than Regina, Saskatchewan native Riley Woods.
As a rookie with the Growlers in 2019-20, Woods collected 37 points in 43 games and continued to build on his development this past season with a hot start in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies before earning a permanent call-up to the AHL’s Colorado Eagles, where he amassed 11 points, including three goals, in just 26 games.
Not bad for a topsy-turvy season that didn’t start until January.
“This year was especially different because I didn’t start playing until January 15,” said Woods following the completion of his season in Colorado.
“I was waiting until after Christmas to see where I was going to go. It was actually our coach in Newfoundland, John Snowden, who reached out and asked ‘what do you think about going to Utah to start the season.”
After a stretch of 16 points in 14 games in Utah, Woods earned a call-up to the AHL and made the most of his opportunity.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind this year. Nothing was really set in stone. I’m happy that I got the chance to stay in Colorado for the season. Everybody was in the same pool I was in, just trying to find a place to play this year. That certainly wasn’t easy for some players. I was fortunate enough to finish my season in the American Hockey League.”
What made his transition easier was a plethora of familiar faces from his first season of professional hockey in Newfoundland. West Valley City Utah turned into St. John’s South as the Grizzlies had no less than four additional former Growlers on their roster, including Garrett Johnston, Trey Bradley, Miles Gendron, and Parker Gahagen.
“That made it a little easier,” Woods said of his familiar teammates.
“Myself and Miles Gendron both got called up to Colorado at the same time to start the year. It definitely made it easier. I hadn’t seen Parker Gahagen in a while, so it was nice to catch up on those old friendships.”
As if the Colorado Eagles’ locker room didn’t have enough Newfoundland flavour, Woods was playing for the Eagles when St. John’s native and current member of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche Alex Newhook appeared in his first games as a professional. It should come as no surprise that Newfoundland became a frequent topic of conversation between the two.
“Yeah, we talked about Newfoundland a bit actually,” Woods said with a laugh.
“He knows Zach O’Brien and Marcus Power a little bit. We talked about George Street and he got to tell us about where he was from. It was cool.”
The first two seasons of Woods’ professional career has taken him to all corners of the hockey map. From Canada’s east coast to the mountains of Colorado and Utah and the sunny cities in between, Woods admits he doesn’t exactly miss the North Division travel grind.
“We’re in a division with San Diego, Henderson, and Tuscon so I got to travel to some pretty warm places this year,” Woods said.
“I think one of my favourites was Tucson, it was beautiful when we went down there. It was hot. Coming from Colorado, which is not one of the warmest places, it was nice to travel there. Travel was great. We flew everywhere and got to visit some cool places, we also went to Vegas to play Henderson, so that was cool.”
As neat as it is to explore new cities, Woods and his AHL teammates didn’t get many opportunities to get out into these communities due to Covid restrictions. So what did he and his teammates do to pass the time amidst lockdowns and quarantines? Fire up the ol’ gaming console.
“I think one of the biggest things was video games,” he said.
“That kept the guys all together usually. There wasn’t much to do. Even on the road, you couldn’t do much in the cities we traveled to. The biggest things were just hanging out at the rink while we were there, and when we were home, it was video games. We were playing a lot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I’m a PS4 guy. No PS5 yet. It’s still too hard to find. It's expensive too.”
While he’s the first to admit he has honed his sharpshooter skills on the PS4 this year, Woods is much more modest when admitting to his success on the ice this season.
“It went really well actually,” he said of his personal progress this season.
“I thought I developed as a player on and off the ice. It was a big jump to the AHL but I think I fit in quite well up there. I’m excited for next year already.”
Even though Woods has his focus set on another year in the AHL next season, that doesn’t mean he has forgotten the many memories created from his rookie season on the Rock.
“It was unbelievable. I don’t have a bad thing to say about Newfoundland,” Woods said.
“We got treated as good in Newfoundland as I did in the AHL in Colorado. It was nothing but good things. I know the weather was a bit up and down, anybody would say that about Newfoundland. The people were great, the fans were great. I enjoyed my time when I was there. I think the best memory I have was when we won those 19 straight home games. I had never been on a team that had done anything like that before. That was really special. I think we were just so comfortable playing at Mile One Centre. We had a great fan base and the boys just knew we were going to win those games at home.”