ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The historic port city of St. John's broke out in joyous celebration Tuesday night as the Newfoundland Growlers claimed the province's first-ever professional hockey championship.
The Growlers captured the ECHL's Kelly Cup in a tight game against the Toledo Walleye played in a noisy, packed Mile One Centre in St. John's.
Celebrations after the 4-3 victory spilled into downtown streets, with drivers honking their horns and waving Newfoundland flags out car windows. The odd horn blast could be heard from ships in the foggy harbour.
Team owner Dean MacDonald said Wednesday that celebrations with the team went late into the night and are expected to continue this week, with plans for a Friday parade in the works so fans can meet "their Growlers" and take a picture with the Kelly Cup.
MacDonald said the historic win in the Growlers' inaugural season was a salve for the "hockey-mad" province that's had a "tough few years" facing poor economic conditions.
"We kind of needed a win," MacDonald said by phone. "Just about everyone down in this neck of the woods is pretty proud today."
The historic win also saw the Growlers become the first team to claim the league title in its first season of existence since the Greensboro Monarchs in 1990.
Growlers' forward Zach O'Brien also nabbed the June M. Kelly trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs after scoring 16 goals and 13 assists in the team's championship run.
It was an electric night at St. John's arena as the team finished strong on home ice. The game drew a full house of 6,329 fans, from youngsters celebrating their birthday parties to recently re-elected Premier Dwight Ball, who posted photos from the game on Twitter and shared an all-caps "WAY TO GO GROWLERS!!!"
Fans watching from away also shared messages of support, with musician Alan Doyle posting on Twitter that he was streaming the game online from a hotel in Sweden.
People were encouraged to bring noisemakers of all kinds and came through at game time with cowbells and cheers heard throughout the arena, especially thunderous as the game drew to a close.
MacDonald said the last few seconds of the game, when "they knew we had it" made for a special moment in a knockout inaugural season for the Growlers.
"It's awful fulfilling, I have to say," he said.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press