PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Mississippi defenseman Sheldon Brookbank made his National Hockey League debut with the Nashville Predators on Tuesday to become the 318th player to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL.
Brookbank, who assisted on Nashville’s only goal in a 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh, becomes the third former ECHL player to play his first NHL game in the last four days, joining former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata, who played for the New York Islanders on Sunday, and former Florida Everblades defenseman Martin Lojek, who played for the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
In his rookie season in 2001-02, the 26-year-old Brookbank had 29 points (8g-21a) and 137 penalty minutes in 62 regular season games and five points (1g-4a) and 27 penalty minutes in 10 games in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the Sea Wolves and also played in the American Hockey League where he had one assist and 24 penalty minutes in six games for Grand Rapids.
There have been 15 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season: Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), Sheldon Brookbank (Nashville on Feb. 6), 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 6-foot-2 and 200-pound Brookbank is tied for the lead among AHL defensemen with 27 assists and 36 points in 51 games and he was one of 11 former ECHL players selected for the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07, marking the 10th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
Since 2000-01 there have been 173 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL including a record 47 who made their NHL debut in 2005-06. There have been 94 former ECHL players who have played in the NHL this season and in 2005-06 there were 112 former ECHL players who played in the NHL, including five goaltenders who played a game in both the ECHL and the NHL, and all 30 teams had a former ECHL player take the ice for at least one game.
There are two NHL head coaches (Peter Laviolette and Jim Playfair) and nine NHL assistant coaches who have an ECHL background. The ECHL was represented for the sixth consecutive year on the Stanley Cup champion in 2006 by Laviolette, who is the first ECHL coach to hoist the coveted trophy, Chad LaRose, Andrew Hutchinson and assistant athletic trainer Chris Stewart.
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.