The Toronto Maple Leafs announced last week that former Flint Firebirds bench boss Eric Wellwood has been hired to be the third Head Coach in Newfoundland Growlers history.
As Wellwood makes his way to Newfoundland to begin preparations for the 2021-22 ECHL season, let’s take a look at what the new Growlers coach will be bringing to the organization when the season kicks off in October.
Born in Oldcastle, Ontario just outside of Windsor, Ontario on March 6, 1990, Wellwood was a prolific junior hockey star.
Playing for his hometown Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League from 2006-07 to 2009-10, he was an integral part of one of junior hockey’s biggest dynasties and collected a pair of OHL titles as well as a pair of Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 playing with the likes of future NHL elites like Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Adam Henrique, and Phillip Grubauer to name a few.
Following Windsor’s first Memorial Cup triumph, the Philadelphia Flyers selected the 5’11” left-handed forward in the sixth round, 172nd overall, of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
He would make his professional debut in the 2010-11 season, suiting up 73 games with the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms. That same season, Wellwood made his NHL debut on November 1, 2010, against the Carolina Hurricanes.
During his three-year playing career, Wellwood shared time between the Flyers and the Phantoms. He scored his first NHL goal against Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 18, 2012.
During the 2012-13 season with the Phantoms, Wellwood was involved in a freak incident during a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Upon colliding feet-first into the boards, Wellwood severed three tendons in his right leg, including his Achilles tendon.
The incident resulted in a severe amount of blood loss for Wellwood, who was immediately rushed to hospital. While medical personnel were able to prevent major tragedy, the injury did prematurely end Wellwood’s promising playing career at the age of just 23.
The injury gave Wellwood the opportunity to get an early start on his coaching career.
From 2013-14 to 2017-18, Wellwood cut his teeth as an assistant/associate coach in several markets, including the Windsor Spitfires (2013-14), the Oshawa Generals (2014 to 2016), the Flint Firebirds (2016-17) and the University of Windsor (2017-18).
On October 18, 2018, Wellwood was hired as the Head Coach of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds. Just one year after inheriting a struggling young squad at the bottom of the standings, Wellwood created a new culture in Flint and led the Firebirds to the best season in club history, collecting 40 victories and emerging as true OHL contenders before the Covid-19 pandemic ended the OHL season.
With the OHL season shelved for another year in 2020-21, Wellwood elected not to resign his contract with the Firebirds, and instead elected to join the Maple Leafs family for his first professional coaching opportunity with the Growlers in 2021-22.
Wellwood joins the Growlers as a young and emerging coaching talent. Not only was he able to bring team success to Flint, he was able to help develop several prominent NHL draft picks, including 2018 first-rounder and Team Canada World Juniors standout Ty Dellandrea.
Wellwood has the perfect combination of playing experience and coaching experience for the Growlers and the ECHL. He has learned from some of the greatest coaches in hockey over the course of his career, including current San Jose Sharks Head Coach Bob Boughner, Washington Capitals Head Coach Peter Laviolette, and Ottawa Senators Head Coach D.J. Smith.
Voted the ‘hardest working player’ three times in the OHL’s annual Coaches Poll during his playing career, Wellwood brings an impressive combination of youth and experience to the Growlers locker room. While he may be one of the youngest coaches in all of North American professional hockey, he has all the tools needed to continue the tradition of success in the Growlers organization.