Growlers 4 wins away from first professional hockey trophy in Newfoundland history

The play-by-play man has already rehearsed the call.

Chris Ballard won't say what it is, and he knocks on wood after even admitting he's practiced what to say if the Newfoundland Growlers win the ECHL championship.

The Growlers are entering the Kelly Cup finals this weekend in their inaugural season, hoping to do what no other professional hockey team in Newfoundland and Labrador has done before — win.

"That call has to reflect the time that these people have waited," Ballard told the St. John's Morning Show. "It's been over 2,000 games now that have been played in this city between the Fog Devils, the IceCaps and the Maple Leafs. That's a long time to be waiting."

Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook

History of close calls

You can count Glenn Stanford among the people that have waited the longest.

He was a front office executive with the St. John's Maple Leafs when the franchise arrived on the Rock in 1991.

Similar to the Growlers, they went on a Cinderella run to the league finals, where they ran into a complicated series against the Adirondack Red Wings.

"Nobody won on home ice," Stanford recalled.

Submitted by Newfoundland Growlers

Indeed, the series went seven games with the road team winning every time. It ended at Memorial Stadium with a devastating Game 7 loss.

Stanford was involved again in 2011, when the St. John's IceCaps made a thrilling run to the American Hockey League semifinals in the team's first season.

"There's something quirky about me and first years," he laughed.

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Filling the role of Growlers president these days, Stanford admits he's nervous heading into the final series against the Toledo Walleye.

While team owner Dean MacDonald will be watching from the team's box above the ice with other Growlers staff, Stanford won't be joining them.

"Glenn is like the expectant parent. He wanders around the building," MacDonald said.

Stay the course

The Growlers and Walleye haven't met this season — there's not much interaction between the Eastern and Western Conferences of the ECHL — but scouts from the organization have been keeping an eye on their playoff run.

From his viewpoint walking around rinks across North America this winter, Stanford has seen the Growlers excel when they stick to their game. From the booth, MacDonald has seen it, too.

"What we like about our team is that we haven't swayed away of the way we were built," MacDonald said.

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The Growlers could have changed ways when the team changed coaches mid-season. Hometown hero Ryane Clowe stepped aside to deal with concussion problems lingering from his playing days in the NHL. He was replaced by assistant coach John Snowden.

That transition was eased in part by the team's leadership group, led by St. John's native James Melindy.

"A lot of credit goes to our leaders," said right winger Scott Pooley. "Making sure the train didn't waver and didn't change course, that we just kept going. We knew the group we had and we wanted to stay with it."

Winning a championship would be special for everybody involved, but perhaps none more than the four Newfoundlanders on the team.

"I've been gone away now the last 11 years," said Melindy. "To be able to come home and be around family and friends is special, and there's also that pride factor as well of being a Newfoundlander and being at home playing professional hockey. It's something special for sure."

Newfoundland Growlers/Facebook

Every storyline will be on Ballard's mind as he enters the broadcast booth for Game 1 on Saturday. The implications will grow bigger as the series goes on, hopefully leading toward the bellowing call of a championship win.

For people like Glenn Stanford, the arena staff and the hometown players who once were childhood fans — it's been a long time coming.

"I think the call has to have a lot of that behind it."

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