Sam Jardine is now a two-time Kelly Cup champion.
The 25-year-old defenceman from Lacombe was part of the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers team that made history last Tuesday, capturing the province’s first ever professional hockey championship.
The Growlers edged the Toledo Walleye 4-3 in Game 6 for the win, wrapping up their inaugural season in front of a full home ice crowd at St John’s Mile One Centre.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to St. John’s, but it’s a hell of a city and it’s even cooler to be able to win while you’re here,” said Jardine.
“We have four guys that are native Newfoundlanders on our team. I don’t think I fully realized how much it means to the province, but I know just through them how much it means. It’s a really special place I’ve been fortunate enough to call home for the last season.”
Jardine, a once sixth-round Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, has played in the AJHL with the Camrose Kodiaks, NCAA with Ohio State University and the last four seasons split between the AHL and ECHL.
In 2016-17, he won his first Kelly Cup with the Colorado Eagles alongside fellow Lacombian Cam Maclise, but says his role within the team was very different from the first time.
“In Colorado we had an older team and I felt like I was everyone’s little brother. I got so many older brothers, veterans that showed me the ropes early in my career, and I’ll be forever grateful for those guys,” he said.
“We have a really young team in Newfoundland. When I came down from the American league, I immediately got put into a leadership position and I really valued that. I felt like they were all my little brothers – it kind of came full circle quickly, even though I am still young.”
That young team came together quickly in its first year in the ECHL, topping the north division and placing third in the league with 94 points and a 43-21-8 record.
Jardine, a strong left-shooting defenceman, played in 10 of those games and was a +7 with eight assists. In the post-season, he played another 20 games and was a +3, with one goal and seven assists by the time the final buzzer went.
“It was really exhausting, but I think one of the things that put us over the hump was how much our teammates loved each other and how tight our group was,” he said. “We didn’t want to let each other down because of the bond we created in that dressing room. We had the motivation to stick it out a little bit longer and harder that the four teams we had to play in the playoffs.
“We just wanted it more in the end.”
The championship victory also made the Growlers the first team since the Greensboro Monarchs in 1990 to reach the final round of the ECHL postseason in their first year of existence.
After his third straight year playing hockey in June – Jardine says he wouldn’t have it any other way – and another championship, he’s now eager to get home and celebrate with family.
“I never forget where I come from. I’ve very quick to tell people I’m from Lacombe and tell them all the great things about God’s country back home,” he said. “I know there’s a good handful of people who have been supporting me for a number of years and it means the world and makes me excited to come home and share this with them.”
His shortened off-season will be highlighted by watching his little sister get married in July, which he says will be “even more special than winning a championship.”
As for what’s ahead, he’s not sure what his future holds, coming off back-to-back contracts with the Marlies.
“At some point, I know you have to create a life away from hockey and since my rookie year I’ve said I’ll just go year by year. As much as I love the game of hockey and everything it’s given to me, I don’t define myself as just a hockey player,” he said.
“I’m going to get some much needed family time in and figure out what my next steps are, but I’m not too worried about it at this moment.”