One of the ECHL’s top teams – the Newfoundland Growlers – take the long way home

Cody Conine/InsideTheRink

The Newfoundland Growlers hit the road for their next eight ECHL games,  facing the Reading Royals at the Santander Arena in Reading, PA, on Feb. 19th & 20th before moving on to play the Trois-Rivières Lions in Trois-Rivières, Que. While being on the road can be rough, head coach Eric Wellwood said the Growlers have the team – and the fans – to help keep the momentum and the enthusiasm on bust while away.

But it isn’t all rosy, he cautioned. For one thing, players can change in a blink. The Marlies recalled forward Zach Solow just before this latest road trip, though top scorer Zach O’Brien has returned. “Zach (O’Brien) has missed that last chunk of games, and obviously, not having him in the lineup was a loss for us, but we’ve still been able to win, and that just shows the depth of our team. When he’s not here, we’re still able to score five goals as we did in the last two games”, said Wellwood. But having a player like O’Brien back is undoubtedly a boost, he added. “Zach’s having a fantastic year – the best in his career – and hopefully that continues, especially in the playoffs,” he said. 

Todd Skirving is another player who is having one heck of a season. “Last year was his best season to date, and he had 21 goals, and now he has 23 so far”. Skirving has also surpassed his point production, Wellwood added. “Last year he got 41 points in 60 games, and this year he has 42 points in 46 games. So he’s having a great year – a massive jump if you look through the stats of his pro career”.

Growler’s Captain, James Melindy, is another name that pops up. Melindy scored his first goal of the season against the Adirondack Thunder on home ice in St. John’s recently, though having such a valuable player isn’t always reflected in the stats. “From a production standpoint, he’s having one of his best years,” Wellwood said. 

Melindy has “more offense than people give him credit for,” he added, something he hasn’t always been allowed to showcase much throughout his pro career. “With our style of play, we’ve been able to see his offensive prowess, and he’s doing fantastic, though his real contribution – which is his leadership – never shows up on the scoreboard. In my coaching career, which is ten years long, and my playing career, which was eight years – so in the last eighteen years – I’ve never seen another captain as good as him”.

Speaking of players who move up and down between the ECHL and the AHL, Orrin Centazzo’s on-ice performance has been in a “little bit of a lull” since returning from the Marlies, Wellwood said. “He was having a great year. He had 17 goals in 20 games or something like that, so he was doing well. It’s one of those things where there are ups and downs in a season, but his last few games have been really strong, and I expect to see him play the way we all know he can play”. 

Former Growler Tyler Boland, who is now playing with the Manitoba Moose, is certainly missed by the team, Wellwood continued. “He was a big loss, and I don’t know if he will be back though I certainly hope so. He’s making a name for himself in the American Hockey League, hindering the possibility of him coming back.”

But there’s hope, he added. Seeing him back with the Growlers will depend on where the Moose end up in the playoffs. “If they don’t make playoffs, he could be back, but I’m not going to hold my breath,” Wellwood cautioned.

While eight away games will be rough, the team is looking forward to returning to home ice on March 10th.

“The weekend games have been really strong for fans, and Saturdays obviously are usually the best nights for the team, and the fans give us a big boost. Those are the toughest games for any hockey player when the fans aren’t there. The louder it is, the more it helps us.”   

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