PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Toledo Storm and Reading Royals center Bracken Kearns became the 469th player to play in the National Hockey League after the ECHL when he made his debut with the Florida Panthers in a 3-0 loss against Buffalo on Thursday.
The 30-year-old recorded 6:30 of ice time for the Panthers.
The Cincinnati Cyclones are the ECHL affiliate of the Panthers and the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. Former ECHL coach Chuck Weber, who led Cincinnati to the Kelly Cup championship in 2008 and 2010, is head coach of the Rampage.
Kearns made his professional debut with Toledo in 2005-06 scoring 69 points (33g-36a) in 71 regular-season games and adding 13 points (7g-6a) in 13 Kelly Cup Playoff games. He spent the entire 2006-07 season with Milwaukee in the American Hockey League tallying 26 points (11g-15a) in 79 games. During the 2007-08 season, Kearns appeared in 17 games for Reading scoring 18 points (5g-13a) while also seeing action in 53 AHL games with Norfolk where he scored 25 points (9g-16a). He has spent the last three seasons in the AHL with Norfolk, Rockford and San Antonio registering 116 points (47g-69a) in 205 games. He had three goals in three games with the Rampage this season prior to his recall yesterday.
The ECHL had a record 81 players on NHL opening-day rosters, surpassing the 79 from a year ago and marking the ninth year in a row that there have been over 50 former ECHL players on opening-day rosters. The ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 NHL teams, marking the 15th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
There have been 469 players who have played in the NHL after playing in the ECHL including 23 in 2010-11. The ECHL has had 277 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 97 players reach the NHL in its first 10 seasons and 215 in the first 15 years. There have been 213 ECHL players who have played their first game in the last seven seasons for an average of more than 30 per year.
There are 32 coaches with an ECHL background working behind the benches of teams in the NHL including including Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach and 2011 Jack Adams Award winner Dan Bylsma, New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, Dallas Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel and St. Louis Blues head coach Davis Payne. It is the seventh consecutive season that there have been 11 or more coaches with an ECHL background working in the NHL. Boudreau, who coached Mississippi for three seasons winning the Kelly Cup championship in 1999, was named NHL Coach of the Year in 2007-08 becoming the first former ECHL coach to receive the award. Bylsma, who played in the ECHL with Greensboro from 1992-94, was named NHL Coach of the Year in 2010-11.
There are 22 former ECHL officials scheduled to work as part of the NHL officiating team in 2011-12 with referees David Banfield, Francis Charron, Ghislain Hebert, Jean Hebert, Marc Joannette, Mike Leggo, Wes McCauley, Dean Morton, Dan O’Rourke, Brian Pochmara, Kevin Pollock, Kyle Rehman, Chris Rooney, Justin St. Pierre, Graham Skilliter and Ian Walsh, and linesmen Steve Barton, Brian Mach, Matt MacPherson, Tim Nowak, Bryan Pancich and Jay Sharrers.
The ECHL was represented for the 11th year in a row on the Stanley Cup champion with Boston Bruins assistant coach Geoff Ward, players Rich Peverley, Michael Ryder and Tim Thomas, radio broadcaster Dave Goucher and scout Tom McVie. Thomas is the first former ECHL player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There were 34 former players and 19 coaches on the 16 teams competing in the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, marking the sixth year in a row that there have been at least 30 former ECHL players and the eighth consecutive season that over 25 players with ECHL experience have competed in the NHL postseason.
The first ECHL player to play in the NHL was Johnstown Chiefs goaltender and current Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Scott Gordon, who played his first game with the Quebec Nordiques against Buffalo on Jan. 30, 1990. The 100th player honor is shared by Jean Sebastien Aubin and Manny Legace, who both made their debut on Oct. 21, 1998 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings, respectively. The 200th player was Brett McLean with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 10, 2002 while the 300th was David Liffiton with the New York Rangers on Apr. 11, 2006 and the 400th was Phil Oreskovic on Mar. 9, 2009 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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, Jack Michaels of the Edmonton Oilers, Dave Mishkin of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Bob McElligott and John Michael of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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
• Watch games live on America One, the “Official Broadband & Mobile Broadcaster” of the ECHL.
• 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 16 states in 2010-11.
• The league officially changed its name from East Coast Hockey League to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
• In the last seven seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 3,000 call-ups involving more than 1,500 players and in 2010-11 there were 10 times as many call-ups from the ECHL to the AHL than all other professional leagues.
• The ECHL averaged 4,339 fans per game in 2010-11, marking the seventh consecutive season and the 19th time in the last 21 years that the ECHL has averaged over 4,000 fans.