PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Wheeling Nailers and ECHL All-Star defenseman Paul Bissonnette became the 356th player to play in the National Hockey League after playing in the ECHL when he made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 4-3 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Welland, Ontario native, who also played for the Penguins in their 3-1 loss to Ottawa on Sunday, played his first three seasons with the Nailers where he had 69 points (16g-53a) and 162 penalty minutes in 101 games. He also played in the American Hockey League where he had 14 points (4g-10a) and 211 penalty minutes in 104 regular season games and 11 penalty minutes in seven playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Selected in the fourth round (121st overall) by Pittsburgh in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the 23 year old was selected to the 2007 ECHL All-Star Game when he had 42 points (10g-32a) and 115 penalty minutes in 65 games for Wheeling.
The have been 100 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL in the last four seasons, including a record 47 in 2005-06, and there were 333 former ECHL players on NHL training camp rosters, including 139 who played in the league last season.
Former ECHL coaches working as head coaches in the NHL are Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals, Scott Gordon of the New York Islanders and Peter Laviolette of the Carolina Hurricanes. 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. 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.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 30 teams in the NHL, marking the 12th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
The ECHL is represented for the eighth consecutive year on the National Hockey League championship team in 2008 by Aaron Downey of the Detroit Red Wings.
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, Mike Leggo, Wes McCauley, Dean Morton, Dan O’Rourke, Brian Pochmara, Kevin Pollock, Kyle Rehman, Chris Rooney, Justin St. Pierre, Ian Walsh and Dean Warren and linesmen Steve Barton, Brian Mach, Tim Nowak and Jay Sharrers. Barton, Leggo, McCauley, Nowak, Pollock, Rooney and Sharrers all worked the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Watch games live on B2 Networks, the “Official Broadband Broadcast Provider” 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 23 teams playing 828 games in 16 states and British Columbia in 2008-09.
The Reading Royals, the City of Reading and the Sovereign Center will host the 17th Annual ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 21, 2009 and the 12th Annual All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 20, 2009.
The league officially changed its name from East Coast Hockey League to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 29 teams in the American Hockey League in 2007-08 and for the past 19 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion.
In the last six seasons the ECHL has had more call ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,300 call ups involving more than 1,200 players. In each of the last three seasons there have been more than 225 players who have played in both the ECHL and the AHL in the same season.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.