The Growlers' road back to the Kelly Cup begins Friday night at Mile One

"The wait is over!" yelled Chris Ballard, the Newfoundland Growlers' play-by-play broadcaster, into his headset as the rookie ECHL club poured over the bench and onto home ice at Mile One Centre in June to hoist its first Kelly Cup. 

Now, the wait is over for the Growlers' title defence, despite dropping their first battle against a hungry Reading Royals 6-5 at Mile One Centre on Friday night. 

In its first year of competition the expansion Growlers team took the league by storm on way to bringing home the title. 

The club will have its work cut out for it this season, though, with a target on its back as defending champions, Ballard told CBC Radio's On The Go.

However, with 10 returning players and a crop of new rookies, Ballard said the season ahead is shaping up to be as much fun, if not more, as last year. 

Newfoundland Growlers/Twitter

The championship banner was lifted to the rafters before Friday night's game and not one, but two ECHL championship trophies were be celebrated. 

The Colorado Eagles had refused to return the Kelly Cup after a dispute with the league so the Growlers paraded a new one around during the summer. 

However, the Growlers contacted the team and were able to get it back. 

"I guess [it was] mutual respect — they were kind enough to send the original cup back so tonight the ceremonies will include two cups," said Growlers owner Dean MacDonald.

MacDonald said the cup did a lot of travelling around the province and country this summer as it visited players in their hometowns. 

'A whole different vibe' 

MacDonald said the attitude surrounding the team has changed a lot in a year's time. 

"Last year when players arrived in Newfoundland, I think [there were] a lot of long faces. It meant they had been cut from the parent club and they were going to spend their year in Newfoundland," said MacDonald. 

Now, he said. with 10 returning athletes and an ECHL championship under their belt, the players are excited to be here, not only to play good hockey but also meet the fans and experience the city. 

"There is a whole different vibe to the team so players are excited and they want to be part of what happened last year."

The attitude hasn't just changed within the players. MacDonald said he can see a change in the attitude of the fans. 

At the season opener in 2018, there weren't even jerseys for fans to buy in the store. This year they are expecting to see a lot of black and gold at what they believe will be a sold out game. 

"I expect it will be a vastly different looking audience opening night tonight than last year."

Long-term deal reached for Mile One

In late September, the Growlers reached a deal with the City of St. John's for the next 10 years at Mile One, after rumours swirled that the team may be leaving the province.

Submitted by Newfoundland Growlers

But with the new deal inked, Ballard said, it's a good time for fans to invest in the team.

"Now under local ownership, and an unprecedented lease signed, people can start coming on down and not have to worry about the team going, the team moving or any kind of hoopla in the media," he said. 

"Now you can just get excited about the hockey and the guys coming through here."

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