PRINCETON, N.J. – The ECHL announced that for the 20th year in a row it is represented on the American Hockey League champion as 15 of the 26 players who played for Hershey played in the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League. The head coach of the Bears, who won their league record 10th title, is former ECHL player and coach Bob Woods and the assistant coach is former ECHL assistant Mark French.
It is the most former ECHL players on an AHL champion surpassing the 14 players for Chicago in 2008. There have been 41 former ECHL players on the last three AHL winners and 59 former ECHL players on the last five champions.
The ECHL has had affiliations with 20 or more teams in the AHL the last eight years and in the past seven seasons there have been more ECHL players called up to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined.
Rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth was named the Most Valuable Player of the Calder Cup Playoffs after going 16-6 with four shutouts, a goals-against average of 1.92 and a save percentage of .932 in the postseason. He began the season with South Carolina where he is 6-7-0 with two shutouts, a goals-against average of 2.28 and a save percentage of .918 in 13 games. The 21 year old turned aside 19 of 20 shots in the third period to preserve the win for the American Conference in the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 21 at the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa.
Kelly Cup champion South Carolina is the ECHL affiliate for Hershey and Neuvirth, Kip Brennan and Steve Pinizzotto played for the Stingrays this season. Sean Collins, Andrew Gordon. Grant McNeill and Patrick McNeill played for the Stingrays last year and Kyle Wilson played for South Carolina in 2006-07. Grant McNeill also played in the ECHL with Texas (2004-05), Florida (2005-06) and Wheeling (2006-07) while Brennan played for Long Beach in 2006-07.
The other former ECHL players on the Bears are Greg Amadio (Columbia in 2003-05), Dean Arsene (Charlotte in 2001-02 and Reading in 2003-04), Keith Aucoin (Florida in 2001-02), Jay Beagle (Idaho in 2006-07), Quintin Laing (Jackson in 2000-02), Graham Mink (Richmond in 2001-02) and Tyler Sloan (Dayton in 2002-03 and 2004-05 and Las Vegas in 2005-06).
Beagle, Collins, Gordon, Neuvirth and Sloan were among the record 52 former ECHL players who made their NHL debut with the Washington Capitals this year while Aucoin, Laing and Mink also played in the NHL this season.
Thirteen of the 26 players on runner-up Manitoba had ECHL experience with Alexandre Bolduc (Bakersfield in 2005-07), Dusty Collins (Ontario in 2008-09), Guillaume Desbiens (Gwinnett in 2005-06 and 2007-08), Zack FitzGerald (Alaska in 2005-07), Maxime Fortunus (Louisiana in 2003-05), Shaun Heshka (Victoria in 2006-07), Jason Jaffray (Roanoke in 2002-03 and Wheeling in 2003-05), Tommy Maxwell (Phoenix in 2006-07 and South Carolina in 2007-09), Derek Nesbitt (Gwinnett in 2005-06 and 2007-08 and Idaho in 2006-07), Matt Pope (Bakersfield in 2008-09), Greg Rallo (Idaho in 2005-08), Travis Ramsey (Victoria in 2008-09) and Curtis Sanford (Peoria in 2000-02).
Matt Zaba, who played for the Charlotte Checkers and the Idaho Steelheads, and Josh Tordjman, who played for the Phoenix RoadRunners, were both selected as recipients of the Reebok X-Pulse/AHL Goaltender of the Month award in 2008-09.
Seven times in the last nine years the winner of the AHL Coach of the Year award has been a former ECHL coach including Scott Gordon, Mike Haviland and Kevin Dineen in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Former ECHL coaches won the award four consecutive years from 2001-04 with Don Granato, Bruce Cassidy, Geoff Ward and Claude Noel. The first former ECHL coach to win the award was Peter Laviolette in 1999.
For the second season in a row 10 former ECHL players were named Reebok/AHL Player of the Week with former Florida Everblades center Keith Aucoin, former Johnstown Chiefs goaltender Jason Bacashihua, former Las Vegas Wranglers and Wheeling Nailers goaltender John Curry, former Stockton Thunder and 2007 ECHL All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk, former Trenton Devils goaltender Jeff Frazee, former Las Vegas Wranglers goaltender Kevin Lalande, former Wheeling Nailers right wing David Laliberte, former Gwinnett Gladiator and 2006 ECHL All-Star left wing Pascal Pelletier, former Phoenix RoadRunners goaltender Josh Tordjman, former ECHL goaltender Mike Brodeur and former Gwinnett Gladiators center and AHL All-Star Classic Most Valuable Player Jared Ross.
There were eight former ECHL players and three former ECHL coaches in the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic.
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.• Affiliations with 24 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League marking 12th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.• ECHL has been represented on last nine Stanley Cup champions.• 407 former ECHL players have played in NHL.• 151 former ECHL players have played their first NHL game in the last four seasons.• Record 52 former ECHL players made their NHL debut in 2008-09.• Eight players played in the ECHL and the NHL in 2008-09 with goaltenders Matt Climie (Idaho and Dallas), Riku Helenius (Mississippi and Tampa Bay), Michal Neuvirth (South Carolina and Washington) and Marek Schwarz (Alaska and St. Louis), defensemen Raymond Macias (Johnstown and Colorado), Wes O’Neill and Kevin Quick (Augusta and Tampa Bay) and right wing Joel Rechlicz (Utah and New York Islanders).
• There were 72 former ECHL players on NHL opening-day rosters.
• Former ECHL coaches working as head coaches in the NHL are Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals and Scott Gordon of the New York Islanders while former ECHL player Dan Bylsma is the head coach of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. 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. Peter Laviolette, who began his coaching career with the Wheeling Nailers, led Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
• There are 15 assistant coaches in the NHL who were players or coaches in the ECHL.
• There are 18 former ECHL officials scheduled to work as part of the NHL officiating team in 2008-09 with referees David Banfield, Chris Ciamaga, Ghislain Hebert, Marc Joannette, Mike Leggo, Wes McCauley, Dean Morton, Dan O’Rourke, Brian Pochmara, Kevin Pollock, Kyle Rehman, Chris Rooney, Justin St. Pierre and Ian Walsh and linesmen Steve Barton, Brian Mach, Tim Nowak and Jay Sharrers.
• Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.