PRINCETON, N.J. – When the National Hockey League season opens on Wednesday there will be 11 coaches with an ECHL background working behind the benches of teams in the NHL, including Peter Laviolette, who is the head coach of defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina, and Jim Playfair, who is head coach of the Calgary Flames.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07. There have been 303 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 47 in 2005-06. There have been 158 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL in the past five seasons and there were 13 former ECHL coaches behind the benches of NHL teams in 2005-06.
Laviolette, who began his coaching career with Wheeling, became the first former ECHL coach to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup after leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the NHL championship in 2005-06. Laviolette was also head coach of the 2006 United States Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey team. Carolina is owned by Peter Karmanos, Jr., who is part owner of the Florida Everblades, who are the ECHL affiliate of the Hurricanes.
Playfair, who was ECHL Coach of the Year in 1994-95, became the fifth former ECHL coach to become a head coach in the NHL when the Calgary Flames named him to replace Darryl Sutter. The Las Vegas Wranglers are the ECHL affiliate of the Flames.
Brian McCutcheon, who was ECHL Coach of the Year with Columbus (Ohio) in 1996-97, was promoted to associate head coach with the Buffalo Sabres while Dave Farrish, who was ECHL Coach of the Year in 2002 and coach of Louisiana from 2000-04 and Pensacola in 2004-05, is an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks, whose ECHL affiliate is the Augusta Lynx.
Charlie Huddy, who coached Huntington in 1996-97, is an assistant coach for Edmonton while former Arkansas head coach Geoff Ward is Development Coach for the Oilers, whose ECHL affiliate is the Stockton Thunder.
Barry Smith, who was assistant coach in Erie from 1992-95 and head coach in 1995-96 and assistant coach for Baton Rouge in 1997-2000, is an assistant coach for the Vancouver Canucks, whose ECHL affiliate is the Victoria Salmon Kings, while Peter Horachek, who coached Louisville in 1990-91 and Trenton in 2001-02, is an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators.
Jamie Kompon, who played for Hampton Roads in 1989-90 and for Cincinnati and Winston-Salem in 1990-91, is an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Kings, whose ECHL affiliate is the Reading Royals. Daniel Lacroix, who helped Atlantic City advance to the conference finals in its inaugural season, is an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, whose ECHL affiliate is the Pensacola Ice Pilots, and Ryan Stewart, who was general manager for Greenville in 2005-06, is video coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, whose ECHL affiliate is the Toledo Storm.
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL will open its 19th season on Oct. 20 with 25 teams in 15 states and one Canadian province and welcomes both the Cincinnati Cyclones and the Texas Wildcatters back to the ice in 2006-07.
The ECHL has affiliations with 23 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 39 sellout crowds and 13 of the 22 returning teams raised their average attendance from a year ago.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.