PRINCETON, N.J. – Former ECHL All-Star goaltender Mike Smith stopped 22 shots and recorded a shutout in his National Hockey League debut as Dallas won 4-0 at Phoenix on Saturday. Smith becomes the 305th player to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL and the second this season, joining former Toledo goaltender Joey MacDonald, who made his first NHL start on Thursday.
The 24-year-old was 25-19-6 with a goals-against average of 2.50 in 50 games for the Iowa Stars in the American Hockey League in 2005-06. He had three assists on Mar. 3, 2006 tying the AHL record for most assists in a game by a goaltender. New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur was the last to accomplish the feat in 1993 with Utica.
As a rookie in 2002-03, Smith was named to the ECHL All-Star Game and was 11-10-4 with a goals-against average of 2.55 and a save percentage of .910 in 27 games with Lexington while also playing in the AHL with Utah where he was 5-5-0 with a goals-against average of 3.23 and a save percentage of .906 in 11 games. He spent 2003-04 with Utah of the AHL and was 8-11-0 with a goals-against average of 2.83 and a save percentage of .908 in 21 games while also spending time in the NHL as the backup for Dallas.
In his third professional start on October 22, 2002, Smith picked up not only his first win and his first shutout, but also scored his first-ever goal in a 2-0 win over Dayton. With Lexington leading 1-0 late in the third period, Dayton dumped the puck behind the net where Smith gained control and flipped it out of the zone. The puck hit in the center face off circle and then slid untouched into the empty net at 19:04. The goal by the then 20-year-old Smith, who is the youngest goaltender ever to score a goal in a professional game, was featured on ESPN’s NHL 2Night.
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 last season, including five goaltenders who played a game in both leagues. Since 2000-01 there have been 159 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.
The Idaho Steelheads and the City of Boise will host the 15th Annual ECHL All-Star Game presented by Rbk Hockey on Jan. 17 and the 10th Annual ECHL All-Star Skills Competition presented by Rbk Hockey on Jan. 16 at Qwest Arena.
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.