1) Growlers Complete Epic Series Comeback over Royals
Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, two teams have seemingly established themselves as the frontrunners to win the North Division crown: the Newfoundland Growlers and the Reading Royals.
These foes were the two top-ranked teams in the division late in the season and seemed destined to battle for the division title in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, only to see the remainder of the season cancelled due to Covid.
Fast forward to the 2021-22 season and the North Division landscape remained largely unchanged. The Royals won the regular season series and claimed not only top spot in the division but first place in the entire Eastern Conference.
Ranked first and second respectively heading into the opening round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Growlers won their series in seven games over Trois-Rivieres while the Royals ousted the Maine Mariners in six games to set up the most anticipated postseason matchup in the North Division in years.
The second round matchup did not start well for the Growlers. In Game One in Reading, the Royals scored four times in the first period en route to a commanding 7-3 win and an early series lead.
While the Growlers responded with a 4-1 victory at Santander Arena in Game Two, it did not slow the Royals’ momentum.
As the series shifted back to Newfoundland, the Royals earned a 3-1 win in Game Three and came right back with a 6-5 win the very next night in Game Four to take a stranglehold on the series with a 3-1 lead.
A 3-1 series deficit wasn’t impossible to overcome but it was a tall order. Only seven ECHL teams had ever completed a comeback when trailing a series 3-1.
With that in mind, the Growlers got to work.
Tied at 1-1 early in the second period in Game Four at the Mary Brown’s Centre, the Growlers rattled off four consecutive goals, including a pair from Maple Leafs prospect Pavel Gogolev to earn a 5-1 win and force the series back to Reading for Games Six and Seven.
But there was a problem. The Royals were one of the best home teams in the ECHL, suffering just eight regulation losses at home in the regular season.
The Growlers pulled up their work boots and got to Royals goaltender and future ECHL Hall of Famer Pat Nagle early in Game Six, making it 3-0 by the first minute of the second period. The Royals mounted a comeback attempt and closed the gap to 3-2 but Gordie Green’s empty net goal would put the game out of reach as the Growlers staved off elimination yet again and forced a Game Seven in Reading with 4-2 win.
With memories of their Game Seven win over Trois-Rivieres still fresh in mind, the Growlers knew what they had to do to complete the comeback and make history.
Clutch playoff performer Derian Plouffe opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal late in the first period and the Growlers never looked back.
Leading 3-2 in the final nine minutes of the third period and the Royals ramping up the pressure looking to tie the game, the Growlers ended any hopes of a Royals comeback. Isaac Johnson capitalized on a perfect pass from Orrin Centazzo on a 2-on-1 and beat Nagle for a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
The Growlers had done it. As the final buzzer sounded, the Growlers had completed the amazing comeback and became just the eighth team in ECHL history to accomplish such a feat. To make the triumph even sweeter, the Growlers learned they were just the second team in league history to win Games Six and Seven of a playoff series on the road.
Newfoundland kick off their fourth season of ECHL hockey on Friday, October 21 as they host their North Division rivals, the Reading Royals, at 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now at nlgrowlers.com/tickets.