PRINCETON, N.J. – Shay Stephenson, who began his professional career with the Reading Royals, made his National Hockey League debut with the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-3 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
The 23-year-old, who was signed as a free agent by Los Angeles on Aug. 17, 2006, becomes the 323rd player to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL. He is the 20th former ECHL player to play his first NHL game this season and the 177th in the last five seasons.
Stephenson had 41 points (19g-22a) and 42 penalty minutes in 62 regular season games and two assists and eight penalty minutes in four games in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for Reading as a rookie in 2005-06 while also playing in the American Hockey League with Manchester where he had four penalty minutes in six games.
The 6-foot-2 and 180-pound left wing was called up to Los Angeles on Feb. 28 after playing in the AHL where he had 14 points (7g-7a) and 51 penalty minutes in 40 games with Manchester.
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 178 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 99 former ECHL players who have played in the NHL this season and all 30 teams have had a former ECHL player take the ice for at least one game. There were 112 former ECHL players who played in the NHL in 2005-06, 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 20 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 Toledo center Matt Ellis (Detroit on Dec. 18), former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata (New York Islanders on Feb. 4), former Reading defenseman Jeff Finger (Colorado on Feb. 20), 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), former Reading left wing Shay Stephenson (Los Angeles on Mar. 1) 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.
2008 ECHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition will be hosted by Stockton Thunder, City of Stockton and Stockton Arena on Jan. 22-23, 2008.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.