The overall youth of the Newfoundland Growlers has been pointed out before. With an average age of just over 24 years, they are one of the three or four youngest teams in the ECHL. (If you don’t factor in 34-year-old defenceman Adam Pardy, who is injured and has yet to play a game for the Growlers, they are, by far, the league’s youngest club.)
And with 11 rookie forwards and defencemen having already suited up for the Growlers — who can dress just 16 skaters per game — it’s not as if head coach Ryane Clowe can afford to give the youngsters limited roles. At centre and on the wings, especially, they can be said to constitute the team’s core.
For example, on Sunday afternoon in Portland, Me., with the Growlers trailing the Maine Mariners 3-2, Clowe pulled goaltender Michael Garteig for an extra attacker. The Mariners did score into an empty net, but it is noteworthy that of the six skaters on the ice for Newfoundland at the time, four of them — forwards Marcus Power, Scott Pooley, Matt Bradley and Giorgio Estephan — were rookies.
Second-year defenceman Steffan Leblanc and Semyon ‘Sam’ Babintsev were the others, and Babintsev is fairly close to qualifying as an ECHL rookie (24 or fewer professional games). He suited up in 22 contests with the Utah Grizzlies last season and in a dozen more between teams in the KHL and top Czech league in 2016-17.
All that youth shows up at the top of Newfoundland’s scoring stats. Six of the Growlers’ top seven scorers are official ECHL rookies, the lone exception being Zach O’Brien.
What’s more, those half-dozen players — Estephan (4G, 2A, 6PTS), Ryan Moore (3-3-6), Pooley (2-4-6), Brady Ferguson (3-2-5), Bradley (2-3-5) and Power (2-3-5) — entered the week among the top eight (with ties) rookie point-getters in the ECHL.
By comparison, the Growlers have featured some experience on the back end, what with James Melindy (302 professional games), Alex Gudbranson (213), Andrew Darrigo (171) and Evan Neugold (104). Even then, it can be a bit deceiving, given the majority of pro games played by Darrigo and Neugold have been at levels below the ECHL. Toss in second-years Leblanc and Cody Smith (who only suited up in the Southern Professional league before recently signing with the Growlers) and rookies Kristian Rubins and Carter Struthers, and you have what could be described as a relatively young group. It’s just that on Newfoundland’s roster, the rearguards look positively old compared to the bevy of rookies — nine in all — on the forward lines.
The Growlers (3-3-0), two games into their eight-game inaugural road trip, next play Wednesday night in Reading, Pa., against the Royals, the ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Philadelphia
Flyers and AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Royals (2-0-2) have yet to lose in regulation this season … Zach O’Brien, who missed Sunday’s game in Portland after being injured early in Friday’s win over the Monarchs in Manchester, N.H., is said to be day-to-day … The top plus-minus ratings for Newfoundland belong to two players who have yet to score a point, defencemen Evan Neugold and Cody Smith, both at plus-four, with all of Smith’s plusses coming in a 4-1 victory at Manchester … Goaltender Michael Garteig has started five straight games for the Growlers, ever since opening-night starter Eamon McAdam was recalled to Toronto. Mario Culina, signed about a week ago is the other Newfoundland netminder. With two instances of games on back-to back nights in the next 10 days, you’d expect Culina to see some action before the road trip ends...