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Superfans say goodbye and mourn the loss of the Newfoundland Growlers

Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy hoists the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre on Tuesday. (Newfoundland Growlers/Twitter - image credit)
Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy hoists the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre on Tuesday. (Newfoundland Growlers/Twitter - image credit)
Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy hoists the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre on Tuesday.
Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy hoists the Kelly Cup at Mile One Centre on Tuesday.

The Newfoundland Growlers won't finish the ongoing 2023-2024 ECHL season, leaving fans to mourn the loss of yet another professional hockey team in St. John's. (Newfoundland Growlers/Twitter)

Newfoundland Growlers hockey fans received some hard news that was difficult to chew on earlier this week.

Their beloved team is no more, leaving fans to mourn the loss of yet another professional hockey franchise in St. John's, but also reminiscing over the good times from the last five years.

The ECHL announced on Tuesday its board of governors voted to terminate the club's membership effective immediately "for failure to fulfil its obligations under the ECHL Bylaws."

Six games — three at home — were left on the schedule.

Evan Purcell told CBC News he never missed a game. He proudly wears his Growlers jersey, dotted with autographs from players.

"My heart shattered into a million pieces that cannot be fixed," Purcell said.

"They're gone but they're never gone in our hearts. Like, I'll love them always."

The final homestand of the season included a game that was slated for Friday. Now that the game isn't going ahead, Purcell is rallying fellow fans to meet with him in front of the Mary Brown's Centre for a collective send off.

Evan Purcell is mourning the loss of the Growlers and is calling for fans to join him Friday in front of the Mary Brown's Centre to show their appreciation for the team.
Evan Purcell is mourning the loss of the Growlers and is calling for fans to join him Friday in front of the Mary Brown's Centre to show their appreciation for the team.

Evan Purcell is mourning the loss of the Growlers and is calling for fans to join him Friday in front of the Mary Brown's Centre to show their appreciation for the team. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"Bring your noisemakers, your jerseys, your signs and whatever you guys want to bring, to show your support to our Growlers for their five years that they've done for us and everything they've done for this city and to give them the proper sendoff that they deserve," he said.

Dwan Street said the news was disappointing. She had tickets in Section 102, which she and friends dubbed "one-oh-zoo" because of the noise level and "madness."

"I think that's what I'll miss the most, being able to just go down on a weekend or weeknight, unwind, catch up with those friends and just be able to take in the fun excitement of professional hockey," said Street.

Deep impact expected

Niall Hickey was also heartbroken when he heard the news. Besides being a fan, he's co-owner of the Newfoundland Embassy, situated across the street from the Mary Brown's Centre.

Growlers fans would fill the stadium throughout the year and that meant big business before and after the game for nearby businesses, he said.

"It's definitely going to be a big impact for everybody. It's going to be a tough winter, for sure," Hickey said.

A young Newfoundland Growlers fan waves a Newfoundland and Labrador flag during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Mile One Centre.
A young Newfoundland Growlers fan waves a Newfoundland and Labrador flag during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Mile One Centre.

Growlers fans had a lot to celebrate since 2019 when the team won the ECHL's Kelly Cup in its first year in the league. (Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook)

On a typical game night, by 5:30 p.m., he said there wasn't an available seat at his restaurant. By 7 p.m. the place would be empty, and pick up again after the game, around 9:30 p.m.

Compounding the feeling of loss is the fact they didn't get to have a proper sendoff to the team, Hickey said.

Paul Loder, another superfan, said he's having trouble believing the news, adding it's like someone died.

"We're still grieving but we have no one to grieve. We didn't have a proper goodbye to our team, which is a sad thing for sure," he said.

Loder loves the team so much he filled his spare bedroom with Growlers memorabilia and his artwork. He said it's now more like a museum. He said he only ever missed one game.

Niall Hickey, co-owner of The Newfoundland Embassy, says the Newfoundland Growlers were a big boost to business over slow winter months.
Niall Hickey, co-owner of The Newfoundland Embassy, says the Newfoundland Growlers were a big boost to business over slow winter months.

Niall Hickey co-owns The Newfoundland Embassy. Hickey says he had a great relationship with the Growlers team and its loss will be bad for many businesses in the downtown area. (The Newfoundland Embassy/Facebook)

Doug Redmond, who volunteered with the Growlers, said the news was a shock to him, especially as the season wasn't finished.

Charities were also involved with the team, said Redmond, and the 50/50 draw could have raised $300,000 if it had continued into the playoffs.

Future of hockey

St. John's Sports and Entertainment CEO Brent Meade was optimistic that there could still be a professional hockey team in N.L. and said the capital city is still a hockey town.

"You can still see strong interest at various levels of hockey in the city, in this province," he said.

"I think there is still opportunity for us to look at whether it's professional or some other level, a higher level of hockey that creates a number of event nights. I think the opportunity is there."

Meade said SJSE will be creative in finding other ways to use the 6,000-seat arena.

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