PRINCETON, N.J. – Former Long Beach goaltender Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves for the Montreal Canadiens in his first National Hockey League start, a 3-2 win at Columbus on Sunday.
The 21-year-old is the 17th player this season and the 320th overall to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL. ECHL alums Michael Ryder and Francis Bouillon each scored a goal in support of Halak, who had a shutout midway through the third period.
Selected in the ninth round (271st overall) by Montreal in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the 5-foot-11 and 174-pound Halak was 11-4-2 with two shutouts, a goals-against average of 2.05 and a save percentage of .932 in 20 games with Long Beach as a rookie in 2005-06. He also played for Hamilton as a rookie and was 7-6-0 with three shutouts, a goals-against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .927.
Halak was called up on Friday from Hamilton where he is 16-11-0 with a league-leading goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .932 in 28 games.
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 175 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 96 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 have been 17 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season: former Greenville and Richmond right wing Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), former Mississippi defenseman Sheldon Brookbank (Nashville on Feb. 6), former Reading goaltender Barry Brust (Los Angeles on Nov. 30), former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata (New York Islanders on Feb. 4), former Bakersfield and Reading goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji (Los Angeles on Jan. 13), former Charlotte defenseman Daniel Girardi (New York Rangers on Jan. 27), former Long Beach goaltender Jaroslav Halak (Montreal on Feb. 18), former Trenton goaltender Martin Houle (Philadelphia on Dec. 13), former Alaska left wing D.J. King (St. Louis on Oct. 5), former Florida center Drew Larman (Florida on Nov. 13), former Florida defenseman Martin Lojek (Florida on Feb. 3), former Toledo goaltender Joey MacDonald (Detroit on Oct. 19), former Pensacola center Kris Newbury (Toronto on Dec. 23), former Augusta right wing Pierre Parenteau (Chicago on Feb. 7), former Columbia right wing Jesse Schultz (Vancouver on Nov. 28), former ECHL All-Star goaltender Mike Smith (Dallas on Oct. 21) and former Augusta goaltender Mike Wall (Anaheim on Nov. 26).
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.