The 2021-22 ECHL season has certainly thrown a lot at the Newfoundland Growlers.
From a sizzling hot road start to the season to scrambling to find a temporary new home in Conception Bay South and the eventual return to the Mary Brown’s Centre, followed by a new wave of Covid outbreaks that forced the cancellation of dozens of games, this season has been anything but normal.
Following the club’s most recent road trip, which evolved into a lengthy one-game voyage thanks to the pandemic, the Growlers were faced with yet another unknown: a quarantine.
As public health rules dictate, all players and staff who traveled home from the club’s New Years Eve battle with the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls, New York had to isolate for five days upon their return to do their part in protecting their fellow public and avoid any possible spread of the virus.
Normally, a five-day break would be a godsend for professional hockey players in the middle of a jam-packed season, but for a club that has only played a single game in almost a month and has yet to play a game in the calendar year of 2022, those five days had the potential to be quite challenging for this squad of talented young men who are chomping at the bit for their chance to return to the ice.
So what did the Growlers do to pass the time during those long five days of quarantine? For some, it meant dusting off the remote and catching up with their good old friend named television.
“We really dove into ‘One Tree Hill’. I never had the chance to get into it before,” said Growlers defenseman Matteo Pietroniro, who spent his quarantine with his fiancé Delaney and their new 12-week-old mini Labradoodle puppy Maple.
“We’re just about to finish it actually. It’s an old show and a great show. And also a lot of Slice on TV, shows like Vanderpump Rules, Real Housewives. What can I say, I love the drama.”
This season’s Growlers squad skews rather young. With many of the lads just in their early twenties, it should come as no surprise that many of them spent their days in front of the television, not with a remote in their hands, but a gaming controller.
“I’m a big Fortnite guy,” admits rookie defenseman and Xbox enthusiast Riley McCourt.
“But a lot of guys are playing Call of Duty right now, so I might have to switch it up.”
While the temptation may have been strong to fuel these trash TV binge sessions or marathon gaming periods with mountains of fast food from local delivery services, these professional athletes were more excited to flex their cooking skills to make sure they were eating healthy to stay in tip top shape.
“We cooked a lot here. We got groceries delivered and made a lot of different things,” said longtime Growler Todd Skirving, who spent his quarantine with his roommate and fellow Kelly Cup champ Garrett Johnston.
“We made a homemade tomato basil soup, we made a chicken broth from a carcass we had. And breakfasts were easy with smoothies and that kind of thing. We basically cooked most of our food ourselves.”
But of course, no human being, professional athlete or otherwise, can go through an entire five-day quarantine without a little treat or a cheat meal to keep themselves sane. Ironically enough, several of the above-mentioned Growlers found themselves craving the same sweet treat.
“Johnny got ice cream delivered one night, he wanted a Dairy Queen Blizzard,” Skirving admits. “I think we ended up having a Blizzard three times that week.”
“We racked up quite a big ‘Skip the Dishes’ bill,” jokes McCourt. “My parents always get mad when I order in, but if I want dessert, I’m getting Dairy Queen.”
But hey, the boys deserve a little indulgence from time to time. After all, they were still working hard at home. The team organized daily Zoom workouts and even yoga sessions for the players to ensure that they remained in top physical form. Being confined indoors during a five-day quarantine isn’t easy and both the training staff and the players saw the importance of keeping active, even if it meant getting sweaty in the living room.
“I tried to keep my routine. That meant getting up early, and doing these workouts,” Skirving said.
“I found myself really looking forward to them. I didn’t want to let myself fall out of shape. We had a long Christmas break and then just the one game. We have an absolute grind of a second half of our season still ahead of us. You try to enjoy the workouts with the downtime because we won’t get many big breaks coming up.”
And he’s right.
Following the completion of the Warrior Hockey ECHL All-Star Classic on Monday, January 17, the Growlers hit the road for the unofficial start of their second half, playing seven games in ten days before returning home for another tough stretch including another seven games in just 11 days.
It’s unfair to say that the club will ‘miss’ their days of quarantine when playing out their jam-packed remaining schedule. It just means that the next trip to Dairy Queen or that next episode of Vanderpump Rules may have to wait until the offseason