The East Coast Hockey League is experiencing a youth movement between the pipes as evidenced by the 11 rookies ranked in the Top 20 for goals against average.
Leading the way is Dayton’s Shane Bendera who leads the ECHL with a 0.97 goals against average and a .964 save percentage and is tied for the lead with one shutout in his first professional season. Selected in the sixth round (169th overall) by Columbus in the 2000 National Hockey League Entry Draft, the 20-year-old Bendera is 2-2-0 despite allowing a total of four goals in four starts.
Following a four-year career at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Jimi St. John ranks second in the ECHL with a 1.10 goals against average. The 25-year-old St. John won his first professional start on Saturday, 4-2 at Jackson, and is 1-0-0 with a .944 save percentage.
Drafted in the first round (sixth overall) by Nashville in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Toledo’s Brian Finley ranks third in the ECHL with a .938 save percentage and fourth with a 1.82 goals against average. Currently on the injured reserve, the 21-year-old Finley is 4-0-0 in his first professional season.
Cincinnati’s Mark Kielkucki, who played 11 games for Dayton in 2001-02, is 1-0-0 and ranks sixth with a 2.00 goals against average while Johnstown’s Dany Dallaire is 1-1-0 and ranks seventh with a 2.16 goals against average.
Lexington’s Mike Smith is 1-1-2 and ranks fourth with a .936 save percentage and eighth with a 2.19 goals against average. Making only his third professional start on Saturday, Smith picked up his first win and his first shutout, and scored his first-ever goal as Lexington beat Dayton 2-0. The 20-year-old Smith is the youngest goaltender ever to shoot and score a goal in a professional game while becoming the sixth goaltender to accomplish the feat in the ECHL and the first since Toledo’s Mark Bernard on March 27, 2001 against Johnstown. Smith’s feat garnered attention throughout the hockey world including being featured on Sunday’s edition of ESPN’s NHL 2 Night.
Florida’s Rob Zepp, who played in 13 games for the Everblades last season, is 2-1-2 and ranks 11th with a 2.33 goals against average while Matt Yeats, who played the past three seasons at the University of Maine, is 2-1-1 and ranks 12th with a 2.46 goals against average.
Roanoke’s Sebastien LaPlante, who played with Calgary in the Western Hockey League in 2001-02, is 2-1-0 and ranks 15th with a 2.61 goals against average while Pee Dee’s Matt Underhill is 2-1-0 and ranks 16th with a 2.68 goals against average. Rounding out the rookie goaltenders is Charlotte’s Niklas Sundberg, who is 3-1-0 and ranks 19th with a 2.79 goals against average.