Sudden loss of ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers leaves fans shocked

Apr 4, 2024 | Sports

St. Johns, N.L., has seen its fair share of professional hockey over the years.

The American Hockey League (AHL) has made multiple stops here, but St. John’s most memorable team may be the East Coast Hockey League’s (ECHL) Newfoundland Growlers.

The Growlers captured the hearts of hockey fans in St. John’s instantaneously winning the league’s Kelly Cup in their inaugural season in 2018-19.

This made the news of the Growlers’ tenure in the ECHL ending on Tuesday hard for local fans like Renee King and her family to hear.

“It’s very, very heartbreaking for all of us,” said King.

The ECHL officially announced Tuesday that the league terminated the Newfoundland Growlers’ membership, and the team immediately ceased operations.

The team was the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with current NHL regulars like Timothy Liljegren dawning the Growlers jersey at one point.

In an official statement, the league said the reason for the membership termination was due to a lack of compliance with league bylaws.

ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin thanked Growlers supporters as part of the league’s statement.

“We are saddened to lose the ECHL hockey in the Newfoundland market,” Crelin said.

“[We] are hopeful that hockey can return to the region for their dedicated and passionate fanbase,” he said.

Deacon Sports and Entertainment, the now former ownership group of the Growlers and the lone Canadian survivor in the ECHL the Trois Rivieres Lions, said in an official team statement it could not sell the team ahead of the April 2 deadline they were given from the league.

“Due to unforeseen challenges, and while a discussion was put forth to salvage both teams, only the Trois Rivieres Lions [were] approved by the ECHL,” Deacon Sports and Entertainment said.

A local Growlers’ fan Evan Purcell was shocked when the decision was announced.

Purcell, a Newfoundland season ticket holder for the past four seasons, said he was upset that the team was not allowed to finish out the season with only six games left to play.

“I think the team should have had a better send-off than that,” he said.

Purcell referred to himself as the biggest Growlers’ fan and became a staple on game nights wearing a suit with images of money on it with other fans calling him “the Money Man.”

“The Growlers meant the absolute world to me,” he said.

Despite the loss of his beloved Growlers, Purcell said he remains optimistic about hockey returning to St. John’s someday.

“This is a hockey city, this is a great hockey province,” Purcell said.

“I think we’ll have another team here, it’s just when,” he said.

Rielly Puddester, another Growlers fan, didn’t share the same optimism as his fellow fans.

He said that with multiple AHL teams, a QMJHL team, and now the Growlers leaving St. John’s, hockey doesn’t seem to work there.

“I really cannot see a future for professional hockey here,” Puddester said. “I hope I’m wrong, I’d love to support another team, but it’s looking pretty grim.”

Puddester said although it hurts to see professional hockey leave the city once again, fans need to focus on the province’s great hockey history.

“The memory of not even just the Growlers, but professional hockey history in Newfoundland has got to live on,” he said.

And lasting memories are what King said the Growlers have left fans and the greater community with.

“They’ve made Newfoundland proud in every which way,” she said.