PRINCETON, N.J. – Martin Lojek, who began his career a year ago in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades, made his National Hockey League debut with the Florida Panthers on Saturday to become the 316th player to play in the National Hockey League after playing in the ECHL.
Selected in the fourth round (105th overall) by the Florida Panthers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old defenseman had 14 points (3g-11a) and 40 penalty minutes in 45 regular season games and played two games in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the Everblades while also playing in the AHL for Rochester where he had two points (1g-1a) and 16 penalty minutes in 15 games.
Lojek is the 13th former ECHL player to play his first NHL game this season, joining Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), Barry Brust (Los Angeles on Nov. 30), 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), 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 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.
There were a record 47 former ECHL players who made their NHL debut in 2005-06, including five goaltenders who played a game in both leagues. Since 2000-01 there have been 171 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL and in 2005-06 there were 112 former ECHL players who played in 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.