Featured image: Newfoundland Growlers owner Dean MacDonald and Growlers defenseman James Melindy pose at the team’s downtown St. John’s, NL jersey unveil in July 2018. Photo credit: Jeff Parsons
Part I: Pro Hockey Returns to The Rock
They say timing is everything, and it was a chance encounter a year ago that lead to the return of pro hockey to Newfoundland.
“I happened to bump into Glenn Stanford on a Friday afternoon,” explained Dean MacDonald, Chair of Deacon Sports & Entertainment, from his downtown St. John’s office.
Glenn Stanford is no stranger to pro hockey in Newfoundland. He lead business operations for the St. John’s Maple Leafs from 1991-2005 and returned home in 2011 to become the Chief Operating Officer of the St. John’s IceCaps after stints in Idaho (ECHL) and Hamilton (AHL).
“Through my affiliation with Rogers (Communications), I had good contacts into the (Toronto) Maple Leafs, as did Glenn, so combined we went and approached them about the ECHL franchise.”
The ECHL officially granted Deacon Sports & Entertainment an expansion team for the 2018-19 season in March, and the Growlers affiliation with the Maple Leafs was rubber-stamped not long after. From there, one of the first orders of business was to establish an identity for the team.
“There was a lot of pressure because we had a deadline,” according to MacDonald.
MacDonald and Stanford hired the Idea Factory, a local marketing agency in St. John’s, to develop the name and logo.
“We went down so many different avenues and explored so many different angles as far as the history of the province, nautical terms, weather, animals, you name it, we went there,” remembers Ed Roche, the Idea Factory’s Founder and Creative Director.
“Just the process of exploring names was exhausting.”
But unlike previous St. John’s hockey teams, MacDonald felt strongly about calling the team Newfoundland instead of St. John’s.
“That became a really important part of how the identity of the Newfoundland Growlers came to be,” said Roche.
Part II: Developing an Identity
There were a lot of ideas on the table early in the process, but both parties liked the idea of using a Newfoundland dog as the team’s logo. MacDonald believed a Newfoundland dog would be iconic for a multitude of reasons.
“One, it hadn’t been done before for a team. Two, the attributes and characteristics of a Newfoundland dog were really good in terms of talking about the characteristics of a hockey team and talking to our fan base who are very proud Newfoundlanders. We wanted to see if we could work with a Newfoundland dog and we’d figure out the name after.”
That set Roche and his team down a long and arduous road to create the iconic, yet simple and timeless logo MacDonald was looking for.
“We looked at it from a lot of angles. Side profiles, front profiles, lighting from the top, lighting from the side, a lot of detail, not so much detail. We found a lot of inspiration looking at how teams had approached bears and grizzlies. How they approached the denseness of the head and how light affected the large features.”
For MacDonald, it was important to get the logo right.
“I was very, very fussy because I took it very personally. I bet you Ed will say it’s one of the toughest ones he had to work on. There were a gazillion iterations. I didn’t want to have a crappy logo out there.”
After nearly two months of back and forth, they knew they were close, but neither was 100% happy. That’s when MacDonald received an email from Roche in the wee hours of the morning.
“I got an email very, very late and as soon as I opened it, I said ‘this is it’. I couldn’t tell him exactly what to do, but when he hit it, I knew it was a hit.”
Subsequently, the name Growlers – which was on the original long list of names because of its meaning in Newfoundland as a term for small icebergs that float by the shores of the island every spring – became a favourite amongst the group.
“We had narrowed the list down to four or five names,” said Roche. “We explored the name Guardians a bit but we liked the idea of Growlers because it had a bit more attitude. It had a bit more ferocity to it.”
“It was a way to bring that edge to the Newfoundland dog and it became an identity we latched onto.”
Part III: The Iconic World War I Photo
In late April, the name Newfoundland Growlers leaked in the local media, and fans began to speculate about what the team’s logo and colours would be. A popular belief was the team would adopt a colour palette similar to their NHL affiliate, which is common practice in minor pro hockey leagues and was the case with the Baby Leafs and the IceCaps.
However, MacDonald had other plans.
“I found this picture of Private Hazen (Frazier) from the Newfoundland Regiment which has a lot of historical meaning in Newfoundland from Beaumont Hamel. The colours of the Newfoundland Regiment uniform were kind of a khaki gold and then the dog being black,” referring to Sable Chief, a Newfoundland dog that served as the mascot of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during World War I.
The photo became the inspiration for the team’s colours; Sable Chief Black and Regiment Gold.
“It goes back to classic, timeless, iconic and the black and gold delivered that,” said Roche.
“We tapped into the recent Beaumont Hamel 100th anniversary and the history of the Newfoundland Regiment which brings up a lot of pride and was very popular when the IceCaps did jerseys around the Regiment,” Roche continued.
“To us, it all came together in one real nice story.”
Part IV: There’s a New Dog in Town
In late spring, it was finally time for MacDonald and co. to unleash the Newfoundland Growlers to the world.
“Glenn (Stanford) has been involved with many teams over the years and he told me not to get too excited or disappointed about the response to the logo. He said it will grow on people so don’t worry about it.”
But as it turned out, MacDonald would have plenty of reason to be excited as on May 22, the logo was unveiled to much fanfare.
“It’s crazy how viral it went,” as the story was picked up by major sports networks across North America including the NHL Network, NHL on NBC, and Sportsnet. “It received very high acclaim and full marks to Ed and the team.”
Since the unveil, MacDonald says there has been big demand for Growlers merchandise such as hats, hoodies, and t-shirts.
“We couldn’t keep up. We’ve been sending stuff all over the planet.”
Not a bad problem to have for a team that hadn’t yet played a game. Even the dogs wanted in on the action.
“It became sort of a dog lover’s thing,” chuckled MacDonald. “Newfoundland dog lovers are very passionate people so they were all over it.”
The Newfoundland Growlers played their first game on October 12 in front of a sold out crowd at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. As for what fans can expect from the Growlers both on and off the ice:
“I think people will get a sense that we’re very committed to the total experience,” concluded MacDonald.
If the logo process is any indication, hockey fans in Newfoundland are in for a treat.