PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata made his National Hockey League debut with the New York Islanders on Sunday to become the 317th player to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL. He becomes the second player in the last two days, joining former Florida Everblades defenseman Martin Lojek who played his first game on Saturday with the Florida Panthers.
The 6-foot-1 and 215-pound Fata was signed by the Islanders on Saturday and flew to Washington, D.C. to join them for their game against the Capitals on Sunday. He has seven points (2g-5a) and 105 penalty minutes in 40 games with Bridgeport, the Islanders’ affiliate in the American Hockey League.
Selected in the third round (86th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the 23-year-old Fata played for Wheeling in each of his first three seasons and had 35 points (16g-19a) and 261 penalty minutes in 84 regular season games, including 18 points (10g-18a) and 145 penalty minutes in 2005-06.
There have been 14 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season: Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), Barry Brust (Los Angeles on Nov. 30), Drew Fata (New York Islanders on Feb. 4), Yutaka Fukufuji (Los Angeles on Jan. 13), Daniel Girardi (New York Rangers on Jan. 27), Martin Houle (Philadelphia on Dec. 13), D.J. King (St. Louis on Oct. 5), Drew Larman (Florida on Nov. 13), Martin Lojek (Florida on Feb. 3), Joey MacDonald (Detroit on Oct. 19), Kris Newbury (Toronto on Dec. 23), Jesse Schultz (Vancouver on Nov. 28), former ECHL All-Star goaltender Mike Smith (Dallas on Oct. 21), and Mike Wall (Anaheim on Nov. 26).
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 27 teams in the American Hockey League in 2006-07 and for the past 17 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion. The ECHL has had more players called up to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined each of the past four seasons with 1,646 call ups involving almost 1,000 players.
The ECHL raised its average attendance for the third straight year in 2005-06 drawing 3,934,794 for 900 games which is an average of 4,372 per game, an increase of more than nine percent from 2004-05 and the largest per-game average since 1999-2000. Six teams surpassed 200,000 and nine teams averaged 5,000 per game for the first time since 1999-2000 as the league welcomed 40 sellout crowds and 13 of the 22 returning teams raised their average attendance from a year ago.
In 2005-06 the ECHL and its member teams contributed more than $2.3 million for charity and relief funds, including those benefiting victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while also making thousands of appearances by players, coaches, team personnel and mascots at schools, hospitals, libraries and charity functions.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.