NEW YORK – The National Hockey League announced that former ECHL and current Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild and Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets are the finalists for the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy, awarded to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position.
The general managers of the 30 NHL clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced on Thursday.
Former ECHL goaltender Olaf Kolzig won the award in 1999-2000.
Thomas had a career-high 36 wins and led the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.10 and a save percentage of .933 while helping the Bruins to their most wins (53) and points (116) since 1971-72. He and teammate Manny Fernandez earned the William Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders for the club finishing the season having surrendered the fewest goals.
In his first professional season in 1997-98, Thomas was 4-1-1 with a goals-against average of 2.18 and a save percentage of .944 in six regular season games for Birmingham while also playing one game in the International Hockey League with Houston. He also played in Finland where he was 13-4-1 with two shutouts, a goals against of 1.62 and a save percentage of .947 in 18 regular season games for Helsinki.
The ECHL has been represented on the last nine NHL champions including 2009 with Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, player Ruslan Fedotenko, equipment managers Dana Heinze and Dave Zeigler, athletic trainers Chris Stewart and Scott Adams and scout Derek Clancey. Chris Minard, who helped Alaska win the Kelly Cup in 2005-06, and John Curry, who played in the ECHL with Las Vegas and Wheeling, were members of the Penguins postseason practice squad and participated in the postgame celebration.
In addition to Bylsma, Fedotenko and Pratt there are 11 former ECHL players who have been on the Stanley Cup winner: David Aebischer (Colorado in 2001), Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim in 2007), Kevin Dean (New Jersey in 1995), Aaron Downey (Detroit in 2008), Andrew Hutchinson (Carolina in 2006), Chad LaRose (Carolina in 2006), Manny Legace (Detroit in 2002), Krzysztof Oliwa (New Jersey in 2000), George Parros (Anaheim in 2007), Andre Roy (Tampa Bay in 2004) and Corey Schwab (New Jersey in 2003).
The ECHL was represented in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 43 former players and 14 former coaches on 15 of the 16 teams. It was the fourth year in a row that there were at least 30 former ECHL players and the sixth consecutive season that over 25 players with ECHL experience competed in the NHL postseason. It marked the fifth straight year that the ECHL has been represented by at least six coaches. Seven former ECHL referees and three former ECHL linesmen worked the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eight other former ECHL officials worked in the NHL during the regular season.
There have been 407 players who have played in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 52 in 2008-09. Fourteen former ECHL players signed contracts totaling more than $60 million last summer while Alexandre Burrows, who played in the ECHL his first three seasons, signed a four-year extension with Vancouver reportedly worth $8 million.
There were eight players who played in the ECHL and the NHL in 2008-09 with goaltenders Matt Climie (Idaho and Dallas), Riku Helenius (Elmira, Mississippi and Tampa Bay), Michal Neuvirth (South Carolina and Washington) and Marek Schwarz (Alaska and St. Louis), defensemen Wes O’Neill (Johnstown and Colorado), Raymond Macias (Johnstown and Colorado) and Kevin Quick (Augusta, Elmira and Tampa Bay) and right wing Joel Rechlicz (Utah and New York Islanders).
The ECHL has had 215 players reach the NHL since 2002-03 when it changed its focus to become the primary developmental league for the NHL and the AHL. The ECHL had 96 players reach the NHL in its first 10 seasons and 215 in the first 15 years. There have been 151 ECHL players who have played their first game in the last four seasons for an average of more than 37 per year.
The ECHL was represented in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game by Mark Streit of the New York Islanders and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins while former ECHL players Dan Ellis, Jonathan Quick and Tomas Vokoun have all been selected as recipients of the NHL’s “Three Stars” award this season.
The first ECHL player to play in the NHL was Johnstown Chiefs goaltender and current New York Islanders head coach Scott Gordon, who played his first game with the Quebec Nordiques against Buffalo on Jan. 30, 1990.
Former ECHL broadcasters working in the National Hockey League include John Ahlers and Steve Carroll of the Anaheim Ducks, Tom Callahan of the Nashville Predators, Dave Goucher of the Boston Bruins, Chris Kerber of the St. Louis Blues, Dave Mishkin of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Rob Simpson, who is a producer/host for The NHL Network.
Ryan Stanzel and Jeremy Zager, who were both recipients of the ECHL Media Relations Director of the Year award, are working in the communications department for the Minnesota Wild and the Los Angeles Kings, respectively. Former ECHL assistant director of communications Joe Siville and Kelly Murray are now with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals, respectively, while former ECHL director of communications Jason Rothwell is the creative director for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League Fast Facts
• The ECHL celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2007-08 and is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
• ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states and has grown to be a coast-to-coast league with 20 teams in 15 states and British Columbia in 2009-10.
• The league officially changed its name from East Coast Hockey League to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
• In the last six seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,500 call-ups involving more than 1,300 players since 2002-03.
• Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.