ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – O, Canada! For the first time in the ECHL’s 31-year history, a team from the Great White North has captured the league’s top prize. The Newfoundland Growlers, a team that didn’t even have a moniker this time last year, was granted an expansion franchise in March 2018.

You can now call them 2019 Kelly Cup Champions.

After falling to host Toledo in game five on Saturday night, it was Newfoundland bound yet again for the Growlers and Walleye, with sights ahead to game six on Tuesday night. An over-capacity crowd of 6,329 people packed into the Mile One Centre in hopes of witnessing the first professional title captured by a team from the Newfoundland & Labrador province.

As both teams managed only single-digit shots on net in the first period (Newfoundland’s eight to Toledo’s four), it was the final shot of the first frame that opened up scoring for the evening. After matching roughing minors for Walleye forward Bryan Moore and Growlers defenseman James Melindy, the resulting four-on-four hockey opened up the ice, much to Newfoundland’s advantage. After Growlers forward Zach O’Brien forced a turnover from a Toledo defender deep in the Walleye zone, he quickly zipped the puck to the left of Toledo netminder Pat Nagle. A waiting Matt Bradley guided the puck in on a forehand shot to make it 1-0, Newfoundland, at 18:31.

The second segment of play brought with it more pucks in the back of the net. Just past the one minute mark, Growlers forward Josh Kestner took advantage of his teammate Hudson Elynuik distracting Nagle in the crease, potting a goal to put Newfoundland up, 2-0. Toledo was fast to respond, as a Kevin Tansey slap shot from above the left wing circle beat Newfoundland goaltender Michael Garteig at 2:39, cutting the Growlers lead in half. A pair of Giorgio Estephan goals at 10:04 and 13:32 gave Newfoundland a commanding 4-1 advantage heading into the final regulation frame.

It was in period three that the Walleye began their comeback attempt. Hunter Smith drove home a rebound high over Garteig’s glove at 5:13 of the third after an initial backhand try by Ben Storm. Newfoundland’s lead was clipped to half yet again after Smith’s tally, his first professional postseason goal. Over eleven minutes later, A.J. Jenks cut through the middle of the Growlers zone and garnered a goal at 16:24 to pull the Walleye within one. But, as the crowd grew wilder and the clock ticked down, it was too little too late for Toledo. With all zeros on the scoreboard, the Newfoundland Growlers discarded their gloves and sticks, as the celebration commenced behind Garteig’s net.

BRINGING IT HOME

As previously mentioned, the Growlers’ Kelly Cup win brings the province of Newfoundland and Labrador their first professional title. It is also the first ECHL championship win by a Canadian team. The first Canadian ECHL franchise, the Victoria Salmon Kings, made the playoffs five out of their seven years of existence (2004-2011), reaching the Western Conference Final in 2010-2011 before being swept by the Alaska Aces, four games to none. The Brampton Beast round out the third and final ECHL franchise thus far rooted north of the United States, having joined the league after the CHL disbanded in 2014. Their furthest postseason jaunt was a second-round exit to the Manchester Monarchs in 2016-17.

HOMEGROWN TALENT

Three players (and one ecstatic broadcaster) had the chance to take part in their hometown team’s inaugural ECHL season. Forward Marcus Power and Zach O’Brien, defenseman (and team captain) James Melindy, and play-by-play announcer Chris Ballard all originated from St. John’s. Defenseman Adam Pardy is also a Newfoundland native, but hails from the town of Bonavista, a little over 77 miles (about 125 km) northwest of St. John’s.

THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

The June M. Kelly Playoffs MVP Award, renamed by the league during All-Star Classic Weekend in January, went to Newfoundland forward Zach O’Brien. Not a surprising selection, O’Brien lead the league in playoff scoring with 16 goals and 29 total points. His 16 tallies are good for second all-time in ECHL postseason goal-scoring, with only Blaine Moore (Richmond, 1995) and J.F. Boutin (Peoria, 2000) ahead of him with 17.

GETTING ROWDY WITH KELLY

The news of the now-AHL Colorado Eagles franchise refusing to return the Kelly Cup no doubt dampened the celebratory atmosphere of the Kelly Cup Finals this year. However, that didn’t stop Commissioner Emeritus Patrick J. Kelly from joining the Growlers in the locker room after they captured the new version of the cup bearing the name of the ECHL’s first commissioner. Kelly was joyfully embraced by Newfoundland in the locker room, giving the 83-year-old the opportunity to take a drink from the newly christened trophy.

The Sin Bin thanks you all for tuning in to our postseason coverage of the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Follow @SinBinStars and @SinBinWolves on Twitter as the AHL’s Calder Cup Final continues this following week (June 5-6 and 8) with games three through five!

Please consider becoming a Patron as a way to say thanks and support us for what we do! https://www.patreon.com/thesinbinhockey