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Once this weekend is over, they will have played the Brampton Beast two dozen times in 13 months
The Newfoundland Growlers are just a little over a year old, so it may be a bit early to assign them an official arch-rival, but if someone insisted there needed to be an opponent with such a designation, the Brampton Beast would probably be a good choice.
It goes beyond the fact Newfoundland and Brampton are the only Canadian-based teams in the ECHL, that they are both in the league’s North Division or that their National Hockey League affiliates — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — are involved in the annual battle of Ontario.
It’s mostly about familiarity.
When the Growlers and Beast square off at Mile One Centre in St. John’s tonight, it will be the 23rd competitive game between the two teams in the last 13 months.
Brampton provided the opposition for the Growlers’ first-ever contest, a September, 2018 pre-season get-together in Stephenville. In fact, the Beast have been the only team that has taken on Newfoundland in exhibition play (three games in 2018 and two games in Brampton, Ont., earlier this month).
The two teams played each other on eleven occasions during the 2018-19 regular season and they met another six times during the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs in a series more than one Growler player has suggested may have been the toughest during Newfoundland’s four-round run to a league championship.
And of course, there was that February game in Brampton that saw a couple of veteran defencemen, the Growlers’ James Melindy and Beast’s Mike Folkes, scrap off-ice following the pre-game warm-up skate, an incident that led to seven-game suspensions for both players.
Melindy is, of course, back this season as Newfoundland’s captain, but Folkes is no longer with Brampton. However, the Beast do have nine returning players, including rearguard Jordan Henry, now the team’s captain, and their three leading scorers from last season — Dave Pacan, David Vallorani and Nathan Todd.
In 2018-19, Brampton was jointly affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens and Senators, but this season, the Beast have a singular affiliation with Ottawa.
Two players on the Beast roster — forward Andrew Sturtz, who was assigned to Brampton this week, and goalie Joe Daccord, are signed to NHL contracts. Another five have AHL deals with the Bellville Senators.
One more notable change: with Colin Chaulk moving up to Belleville to become an assistant coach with the AHL Sens, Spiros Anastas has taken over as head coach of the Beast. Anastas was head coach of the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays last season.
Game times tonight and Saturday are 7 p.m., although tonight’s contest may not be get underway exactly at the top of the hours. That’s because the Growlers will be handing out their ECHL championship rings to returning players before the game. Players, coaches, staff and front-office employees are all receiving rings, as is one lucky fan … Among the players who were with the Beast in 2018-19 and are no longer with the team is forward Aaron Luchuk, now a member of the Growlers. Luchuk, who is in the second year of an NHL entry-level deal, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season as part of a multi-player deal with Ottawa … If you are wondering, yes, Brampton forward Ben Hawerchuk is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk … A couple of Beast rookies — goalie Alex Dubeau and forward Christopher Clapperton played for the Canadian university champion UNB Reds last season. Clapperton was the Reds’ leading scorer in 20180-19; St. John’s native Tyler Boland, now in his third year with UNB, was second …