Maple Leafs’ ECHL affiliate Newfoundland Growlers cease operations immediately

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The Newfoundland Growlers are ceasing operations immediately after having their ECHL membership terminated Tuesday by the league’s board of governors.

The move comes after the affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs ran into financial difficulty. The Growlers were owned by Deacon Sports and Entertainment, which fell behind on payments and was facing a Tuesday deadline imposed by the ECHL where it needed to find another operator for the team.

When that didn’t happen, the ECHL Board of Governors pulled the plug with six games remaining on the Growlers’ regular-season schedule.

“We are saddened to lose ECHL hockey in the Newfoundland market,” ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin said in a statement. “We’d like to thank the Growlers fans and partners for their support of the team throughout their existence, and are hopeful that hockey can return to the region for their dedicated and passionate fan base.”

The St. John’s market faces unique challenges because of its location on the far eastern portion of the continent. That required the Growlers to subsidize airfare costs for visiting teams flying to and from Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the ice, the team was a success — winning the Kelly Cup in 2019 to go with three North Division titles and appearances in the conference final each of the last two years. The list of players who reached the NHL after making a stop in Newfoundland includes Timothy Liljegren, Bobby McMann, Mac Hollowell, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Justin Brazeau.

This season the Growlers were among the ECHL’s lowest-drawing teams with an average of 3,724 fans through 30 home games. That put them 22nd in the 28-team circuit.

The Newfoundland players on ECHL contracts immediately became free agents and are free to join rival teams for the remainder of the year. Those on NHL or American Hockey League deals are unable to play in the ECHL again this season.

“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to our fans, sponsors, partners, staff, and the hundreds of players who have proudly represented the Growlers, whose unwavering resilience and support has been instrumental to our on-ice product,” read a statement from Deacon Sports and Entertainment.

The Growlers are the third pro hockey team that was unable to make a go of it in Newfoundland and Labrador over the last two decades, following the relocation of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps in 2017 and the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs in 2005.

The QMJHL’s St. John’s Fog Devils relocated to Montreal in 2008.

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(Photo: Landon Bost / Naples Daily News / USA Today)

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