With the kids back to school and the nights growing shorter and cooler with each passing day, that can only mean one thing: it’s almost time for hockey season.
ECHL training camps are set to open in approximately a month’s time and preparations are well underway for the Newfoundland Growlers as they set about to begin their fourth season of play in the league’s North Division.
Fresh off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season as Head Coach, Eric Wellwood has had no shortage of time this summer to digest his first full season as a professional head coach and is excited to start putting the pieces in place for his second season in Newfoundland.
“I was very happy with how everything went from last year,” Wellwood said.
“Coming into this year, I’ve learned a lot and I will be able to implement those learning lessons right away this season. It was a big adjustment going from coaching 16-to-20-year-olds in the OHL and now coaching guys who are 21-to-my-age. That was an adjustment in itself.”
The Growlers bench boss admits that the 2021-22 season was (hopefully) a bit of an anomaly. With home arena disruptions, a challenging schedule and a pandemic to contend with, Wellwood feels this season should see smoother sailing, which could lead to increased production on the ice.
“Last year, we had to deal with a lot of unforeseen things that I’d expect we won’t have to deal with this season,” Wellwood said.
“Starting in our home arena will be a big a big help for us getting going. I think our schedule is way better this year compared to last year. For example, last season, we would be on a long road trip and have to fly home after a weekend full of games and play again most Wednesdays. This season, we only have three home games on Wednesdays and none after travel. That’s a huge help for us.”
Wellwood and Assistant Coach Nate McIver are scheduled to meet later this week to hammer out the details for the upcoming season, including developing on-ice structures and training camp details.
The Growlers are once again affiliated with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for the upcoming season and will remain a well-integrated piece of a large blue and white hockey puzzle. Wellwood and McIver are even scheduled to appear at the Marlies Training Camp in October to get an up-close-and-personal look at possible future Growlers.
At this moment, no team in the AHL has more players currently under contract than the Growlers’ AHL affiliate, which could very well indicate that the Growlers will be laden with AHL talent again this season.
Unfortunately for fans clamouring for roster information, Wellwood admits details will be scarce until the completion of AHL camps. While he couldn’t get into many specifics, he did shed some light on some of his roster expectations for the season.
“I have some anticipation of a roster, but I think it’s going to change a lot more this year,” he said.
“I think there will be more up and down transactions. But that’s just my anticipation, I don’t know for sure. I think you will see guys back here that were here last year on AHL deals that were very good for us. I expect some core guys back who have been here from day one in 2018. Those core guys will be huge for us.”
Coach Wellwood is the first to admit that the Growlers are in a unique situation compared to other teams around the ECHL thanks in large part to their partnership with their AHL affiliate. As a result, training camp may start a little later and look a little different compared to competitors around the league.
According to the ECHL, teams are permitted to begin on-ice training camp sessions as early as October 7 but Wellwood explains that the Growlers are in no rush to get camp started.
“I expect to get most of our guys here (from AHL camps) on October 10, so our camp will likely start on October 11 or October 12,” Wellwood said.
“Then we don’t play our first game until October 21. That’s a long time, so we’re basically going to have two or three different mini camps because I don’t know how many guys we might get on that October 10 date. Also worth noting, a lot of these guys will start early on September 13 to go to the Traverse City rookie tournament. By October 13, a full month later, they will have completed AHL camp and still have a week of camp with us before the season begins. We don’t want to overload anybody right away.”
While it may be a few more agonizing weeks before we see our Growlers take to the ice to kick off a new season, Wellwood wryly insists it will be worth the wait.
“I anticipate that our team will be stronger this year than it was last year. It’s going to be a fun season.”