In a way, and not really a small way, the Florida Everblades are responsible for bringing the ECHL to St. John’s.
St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald spends some of the winter time in Fort Myers, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico, and it was while there he began to take in Everblades’ games at the Hertz Arena in nearby Estero.
MacDonald liked the brand of hockey — a lot — and he carried this appreciation to discussions with Glenn Stanford about bringing the pro game back to Mile One Centre, which was without a team after the 2017 departure of the American Hockey League franchise that had played in St. John’s for six years as the IceCaps.
Eventually, their collaboration led to a successful ECHL expansion application, an affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the birth of the Newfoundland Growlers, who made their regular-season debut over the weekend at Mile One with two games against the same Everblades who had piqued MacDonald’s interest in the ECHL.
It was a turnabout-is-fair play series, with the Growlers winning their inaugural game 3-2 Friday night before a sellout crowd of 6,200-plus and falling by the same score Saturday, when the announced attendance was 5,325.
The Everblades, an affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes are one of the ECHL’s most successful franchises — they’ve only missed the playoff once in their two decades of existence — and last year, were Eastern Conference champions, losing to the Colorado Eagles in the Kelly Cup league final.
The Florida side showed some powerhouse traits Saturday, racking up 45 shots, and if not for the netminding of Michael Garteig, might have prevailed by a far larger margin.
Mitch Vandergust’s goal five and a half minutes into the third period broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Everblades the win, but not before the Growlers came close to scoring in the late stages with Garteig on the bench for an extra attacker.
Growlers rookie Georgio Estephan, who had been captain of the 2017-18 Western Hockey League champion Swift Current Broncos, opened the scoring Saturday, when his attempted pass went off an Everglades player and behind Florida goalie Jamie Phillips.
But while scoring first had led to an eventual win for the Growlers Friday, it wasn’t the case in the rematch. The Everblades took the lead on consecutive second-period goals by Kyle Platzer — his second in as many nights — and Steven Lorentz. Newfoundland evened things up later in the middle frame when Semyon Babintsev did as Platzer had, tallying for a second straight game, but that would be it for the home team scoring.
Phillips, a former Winnipeg Jets prospect, made 29 saves.
Next up for the Growlers are the Adirondack Thunder, another team that went deep into the ECHL playoff last year, losing to the Everblades in the Eastern Conference final.
The Thunder are at Mile One for games Tuesday and Wednesday nights, when Newfoundland will look to improve on special teams. The Growlers were zero-for-three on the power play over the weekend (they had just a single chance Saturday) and gave up two man-advantage goals to Florida, which had seven chances in all, including four on Saturday.
Saturday’s Molson/Coors three stars: 1. Garteig 2. Platzer 3. Hurricanes-contracted defenceman John Wesley of the Everglades …The choice as hardest-working Growler on Saturday was forward Marcus Power, who picked up an assist in both games … Other that Garteig taking over for Eamon MacAdam in goal, Newfoundland head coach Ryane Clowe stuck with the same lineup that produced Friday’s win. Not playing on the weekend were defencemen Adam Pardy and Andrew Darrigo and forwards John Kestner, Maxim Mizyurin, Kristin Pospisil and Scott Trask … The Everblades have had over 30 players play for the team and then go on to appear in the NHL. They include Eric Boulton, Matt Hendricks, Shane Hnidy, Mark Stuart, goaltenders Scott Darling and Anton Khodubin and Newfoundlanders Jason Morgan and Doug O’Brien …