St. Johns, N.L. – The Newfoundland Growlers are ECHL Kelly Cup champions. After winning Game 6 against the Toledo Walleye, 4-3 Tuesday, the Growlers lifted the Kelly Cup, claiming the ECHL championship in their inaugural season.
Five former Western Hockey League players were part of the championship team, including Matt Bradley (Regina Pats/ Vancouver, B.C.), Giorgio Estephan (Swift Current Broncos/ Edmonton, Alta.), Hudson Elynuik (Spokane Chiefs/ Calgary, Alta.), Kristians Rubins (Medicine Hat Tigers/ Riga, Latvia) and Growlers Assistant Coach Darryl Williams (Victoria Cougars/ Labrador City, N.L.).
Opening the game with his fourth goal of the 2019 playoffs, Bradley sent the Mile One Centre into a tizzy. In 22 playoff games, the 6-foot, 190-pound forward contributed seven points (4G-3A) and 45 points (15G-30A) in 66 regular-season games.
During his WHL career, Bradley recorded 247 points (111G-136A) in 281 games between the Tigers and Pats. In the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, he was selected in the second round, 28th overall by Medicine Hat.
Estephan and Elynuik were also instrumental in Game 6, notching three points (2G-1A) and two points (2A); respectively. Giving the Growlers a two-goal lead, Estephan scored back-to-back goals leading to what would eventually be the game-winning goal with Elynuik providing the assist.
In 23 playoff games, Estephan collected 24 points (9G-15A), adding to his already successful regular season record of 53 points (20G-33A) in 69 games. His linemate, Elynuik tallied 15 points (6G-9A) over his 16 playoffs games and 28 points (9G-19A) in 33 games during the regular season.
Estephan, a WHL Champion with the Swift Current Broncos was originally selected fourth overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Between the Hurricanes and Broncos, the 6-foot-5, 194-pound forward amassed 325 points (131G-194A) in 327 games.
Elynuik, a Calgary, Alta. native was selected by the Kootenay ICE in the third round, 60th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. In 280 WHL regular season games, 6-foot-5, 194-pound split his time between Kootenay and the Chiefs recording 223 points (84G-139A) in total.
Also a contributor to the Growlers’ success was Rubins, a former Medicine Hat blueliner. Throughout his 17 playoff games, Rubins earned three points (1G-2A). During the regular season, he notched 18 points (2G-16A) in 56 games.
The Riga, Latvia product was selected 16th overall by Medicine Hat in the CHL Import Draft in 2016. In his two years with the Tigers, Rubins recorded 51 points (10G-41A) in 109 games.
Additional WHL Alumni wisdom came in the form of the Growlers’ Assistant Coach Darryl Williams, who played for the Victoria Cougars in 1985-86. During his season with the Cougars, the Labrador City, N.L. native collected five points (3G-2A) in 38 games.
While their performances were strong, perhaps the most dazzling aspect for these WHL Alumni is the fact that Growlers joined the ECHL as an expansion team prior to the 2018-19 season and have now become the first team to claim the ECHL title in its first season of existence since the Greensboro Monarchs in 1990.