After entering the league as an expansion team for the 2018-19 season as the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs/Marlies, the Growlers went all the way to the final, capturing the franchise’s first championship in its inaugural campaign. The Growlers needed just six games to finish off the Toledo Walleye, beating the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate team 4-3 Tuesday night for Newfoundland’s fourth and final victory of the series.
Not only was it the first Kelly Cup victory for the Canadian province of Newfoundland, the Growlers were also more importantly, the first professional hockey team in the province to win a championship ever. Downtown St. John’s is expected to host a championship parade during the afternoon on Friday.
Giorgio Estephan scored two goals Tuesday night, while Zach O’Brien – a local Growlers forward from St. John’s – collected an assist in the 4-3 victory, and also earned the playoff MVP as he led all league skaters with 16 goals (one short of the league postseason record of 17) and 29 points in 23 postseason contests for Newfoundland. O’Brien finished the 2018-19 season with 28 goals and 68 points in 53 regular season games.
Also suiting up for the Growlers in the postseason was Winnipeg’s own Garrett Johnston. The former Winnipeg Hawk, Thrasher, Swan Valley Stampeder and University of Manitoba Bisons’ player capped off his first ECHL season with a championship. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound blueliner put up two goals and 19 points in the regular season, before scoring once and adding six assists (including one in Tuesday’s final) to go along with a plus-6 ranking in the postseason.
The 24-year-old Winnipeg product was joined on defence by former Winnipeg Jet Adam Pardy. The now 35-year-old three-season Jet was most famously remembered during his time in Winnipeg for an incident in Chicago, in which Pardy was hit through the glass, prompting a Blackhawks fan to steal his helmet and douse his head with a fresh beer.
On another strange note – After the Colorado Eagles won the 2017-18 Kelly Cup, the team was promoted to the American Hockey League. As opposed to returning the championship trophy, the Eagles kept it for themselves for the duration of the 2018-19 hockey season, despite the ECHL claiming to have asked for the hardware back upon multiple occasions. The ECHL then made a new trophy for presentation ready for the 2019 postseason. The Eagles then announced they had attempted to return the original trophy on plenty of occasions.
The Newfoundland Growlers are the first ECHL team to enter the league and win the championship in the same season since the 1990 Greensboro Monarchs. Newfoundland finished the 2018-19 season as the top team in the North Division, going 43-21-8 for 94 points in 72 regular season games. The Growlers are just one of two Canadian-based ECHL teams (Brampton Beast).