PRINCETON, N.J. – Mitch Fritz became the 366th player to play in the National Hockey League after playing in the ECHL when he made his NHL debut on Thursday with the New York Islanders in a 3-2 overtime loss at Philadelphia.
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 Utah Grizzlies are the ECHL affiliate of the Islanders, who are coached by former ECHL player and coach Scott Gordon. Former Augusta Lynx defenseman Brett Skinner played his first NHL game with the Islanders on Monday.
There have been 110 former ECHL players who have played their first NHL game in the last four seasons, including a record 47 in 2005-06. Seventy-two former ECHL players were on NHL opening-day rosters and 333 ECHL players attended NHL training camps, including 139 who played in the league last season.
Fritz began his professional career in 2000-01 in the ECHL with Tallahassee where he had eight points (3g-5a) and 79 penalty minutes in 42 games. The 27 year old played for Columbus from 2001-04 and had 28 points (8g-20a) and 577 penalty minutes in 142 games for the Cottonmouths. Fritz has played the last four seasons in the AHL where he has 21 points (10g-11a) and 569 penalty minutes in 188 games with Hartford and Springfield.
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 18 assistant coaches in the NHL who were players or coaches in the ECHL.
Eleven former ECHL players have made their NHL debut this season: former Wheeling Nailers and ECHL All-Star defenseman Paul Bissonnette (Pittsburgh on Oct. 4) , former Greenville Grrrowl goaltender Jeff Deslauriers (Edmonton on Oct. 17) , former Columbus Cottonmouths and Tallahassee Tiger Sharks left wing Mitch Fritz (New York Islanders on Oct. 30), former Charlotte Checkers center Dwight Helminen (Carolina on Oct. 28), former Trenton Devils right wing Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (New Jersey on Oct. 22), former Charlotte Checkers defenseman Steve MacIntyre (Edmonton on Oct. 15), former Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Adam Pardy (Calgary on Oct. 9), former Gwinnett Gladiators center Jared Ross (Philadelphia on Oct. 11) , former Alaska Aces goaltender Marek Schwarz (St. Louis on Oct. 25), former Dayton Bombers and Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Tyler Sloan (Washington on Oct. 21) and former Augusta Lynx defenseman Brett Skinner (New York Islanders on Oct. 27).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, 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. Barton, Joannette, Leggo, McCauley, Nowak, Pollock, Rooney and Sharrers all worked the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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 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.
• ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 29 teams in the American Hockey League 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 2,000 call-ups involving more than 1,000 players since 2002-03.
• Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.