U Sports Hockey: Atlantic Canada is no longer being overlooked by the hockey world

Professional Hockey is finally flourishing in Canada’s Maritime provinces, as the Newfoundland Growlers have given a sporting identity to not only their home province but all four maritime provinces.

Brought to the province by the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey club, the Growlers have captured the hearts of Newfoundlanders.

Having pro hockey in their backyard has given the people of Newfoundland something to be proud of, which has been a rare find, especially when it comes to sporting experiences. Giving Newfoundland a place in pro hockey, as well as the focus of the Maple Leafs organization has brought pride to the east coast.

A couple’s Growlers jerseys at the CAA Centre in Brampton (Benjamin Steiner)

In the spring of 2019, the Growlers began to draw attention from across the hockey world, as the maritime club strode towards the ECHL’s championship. They won that championship but did so in completely different fashion than previous winners.

Since they began to operate the club, the Maple Leafs management has used the Growlers with a clear purpose, as an entry to pro hockey for young players. This theme has not been used in the past, but it’s worked well for Newfoundland. The average age of their championship-winning team was a hair over 24; because the youth worked so well, they have opted to go even younger, with 2020’s roster having no players born prior to 1992, good for an average age of 23.75.

While the age of the team is one thing, there are many other aspects that the Growlers organization can be proud of. There’s one thing which is important but is largely out of focus for non-locals, and that’s the fact that the team has three players from Newfoundland.

One of those three is Marcus Power, who brings a hockey identity to even more of the Maritimes. Power played university hockey with the Prince Edward Island Panthers, who are one of the highest attended teams in all of U Sports. His addition to the roster added an element of nostalgia for island hockey fans that they rarely can find in professional hockey.

There are few who have been able to forge a sporting career completely in the Maritimes, but for Power, the existence of teams has lined up perfectly with his hockey career. When he began at the University of PEI, the Growlers didn’t exist; but by the time he graduated, he was being recruited by the newest ECHL franchise.

“It’s great that it has worked out like this, I only wish we could have an NHL team out there now, but that’s not gonna happen,” said Power following the Growlers 7-6 shootout loss to the Brampton Beast.

In that same game, the impact of U Sports was massive, as four former university athletes were in on the scoring.

Power is one of the latest examples of the growth of U Sports. At the time of writing, he leads the Growlers with 20 goals and is second on the team with 36 points. Not long ago were U Sports players completely absent in pro hockey, but now they make up some of the best the ECHL has to offer.

The Growlers game in Brampton was a massive statement for U Sports, although it went unnoticed by nearly everybody. Four former university players contributed to the scoring, including goals from Power and Petgrave, two players from the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) conference.

“Ya we know each other, we both do well at this level because of the AUS,” said Petgrave, who went on to say that while he knows Power well, their rivalry is based on UNB vs PEI, rather than their ECHL teams.

Petgrave has gotten a cup of tea at the higher level of hockey, having recently spent a few games with the AHL’s Utia Comets, but Power finds himself in a different position. At 26 years old, the former PEI Panther may never make the NHL, although one cannot count him out just yet. Calgary Flames forward Derek Ryan was the latest player to make it out of a Canadian school to the NHL, and he made his debut at 29.

Power vs Brampton (Benjamin Steiner)

“We have to see where things go, I’m doing well this year so maybe I can catch somebody’s eye,” said Power of possibly moving up in the hockey pyramid, but he doesn’t want to get in front of himself. “I am loving it with the Growlers here and we are successful, so I’m just focusing on now,” he finished with.

The Growlers have changed hockey in Canada; they’re winning with youth and showcase local talent, something that is often not the case in an ever-growing international sport. But besides everything that happens on the ice, the unifying factor and passion the team has provided to Newfoundlanders is something that is becoming an important element of maritime identity.

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