Hopes of minor league hockey returning to Augusta this fall appear to have faded for good.
Southern Professional Hockey League commissioner Jim Combs said the league, which has announced the expansion of as many as three new teams in other Southeastern cities for the 2009-10 season, was considering the Augusta market for an expansion team.
âWe havenât been able to secure an ownership group for Augusta,â Combs said. âWeâre going to wait at least a year.â
Augustaâs hockey community spent a long winter without a team after the ECHLâs Augusta Lynx folded in December. The most diehard hockey fans, who still keep a professional hockey booster club going with monthly meetings and paid dues, were looking to the SPHL as a possible hockey savior in Augusta.
The SPHL has spent the spring hinting at possible expansion to Augusta. The league has introduced new teams in Biloxi, Miss. and Lafayette, La., over the past two months and is actively exploring the Pensacola, Fla., market for a third expansion team. Another SPHL team in Winston-Salem, N.C. shut down after the 2008-09 season, and team owner Robert Kerzner announced his intentions to move the team to a new market.
Combs said Augusta was considered an option for the Winston-Salem teamâs relocation, but it wonât happen this year.
â(Augusta) came up as a possibility,â he said. âBut thereâs no need to try to jump back in right after what happened there this past year. The team didnât exactly leave on the best note.â
The Augusta Lynx shut down early in the 2008-09 season, with only 18 games played in its scheduled 72-game season. Season ticket holders paid for 36 homes games but only seven were played. At least five season ticket holders have sued the Group Operating Augusta Lynx, consisting of owners Dan Troutman, Robert Burch and Jan Hodges Burch, looking for reimbursement.
The Lynxâs ugly, mid-season collapse, the first in the 21-year history of the ECHL, was one of at least four such incidents involving local minor league teams over the past two years. The Aiken Foxhounds and Augusta Colts both cancelled their second seasons after rocky first years. The Augusta Groove played its first year of minor league basketball this spring but, after at least three local business and several players and staff claimed to receive bounced checks from the team, co-owner Gary Perry has yet to confirm that the team will be back next year.
Another minor league basketball team, the Augusta Raging River, was in business long enough to hire a coach, hold tryouts and announce a roster this spring, but the team shut down earlier this month before playing its first game.