Augusta Lynx fans have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. As of today, they still have a minor league hockey team to cheer for.
Lynx co-owner and general manager Dan Troutman denied rumors Wednesday that the team was planning to fold before its next game.
The Charlotte Observer briefly reported on its Web site Wednesday afternoon that the Lynx were meeting with the ECHL in preparation to disband, and the Charlotte Checkers had been tabbed by the league as a substitute opponent for tonight's scheduled road game against the Gwinnett Gladiators.
"We're playing in Gwinnett on Thursday and playing at home this weekend," Troutman said Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm not going to tell you there's no substance to it, because we have been struggling to keep things going, but we're still here."
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna also denied the report of the Lynx's demise.
"That is unequivocally not true," he said. "The Augusta Lynx are moving forward and playing hockey. I was very disappointed to see that (report)."
The league issued a brief statement on Wed-nesday afternoon regarding the Lynx's status.
"In response to published reports about the future of the Augusta membership, the ECHL hereby announces that contrary to those reports the Augusta Lynx continue as a member in the ECHL.
"Any rumors to the contrary are simply not true."
Though the immediate future of the Lynx is safe, the rest of the season and years to come might not be so secure. Troutman acknowledged that the team has faced recent financial troubles and was less confident in the team's long-term future.
"That's what's sad. We're pretty well on our budget for this year, but the cash flow coming in and out has made it tight," he said. "We've only had two weekend home games so far, and that's hurt, but we're going to keep fighting. We're very hopeful that we'll continue on."
Troutman said the team has been in talks with the ECHL about the team's financial problems.
"I'm a firm believer that we're partners (with the league), and they need to know about the good and the bad," Troutman said. "I guess they may have had a contingency plan set up, and that's where all this came from."
A team disbanding in the middle of the season would be unprecedented in the ECHL. The Pensacola Ice Pilots folded this off-season and the Columbia Inferno went into a voluntary suspension, but no team has ever folded in the middle of an ECHL season.
McKenna said the league isn't set up to take over a financially struggling team, but it would try to do what was necessary to help.
"We've never had it happen in 21 years, and we don't want for that to happen," McKenna said. "It's never been asked of us (to help out a team financially). I don't want to deal with that hypothetical, but we're not set up that way."
Though untrue, the report out of Charlotte spread quickly to Augusta and sent some Lynx fans into a panic Wednesday afternoon. Lynx group sales manager Michael Ehmke said the Lynx office fielded more than 200 phone calls from fans inquiring about the state of the team.
"All we could tell them was that the info they had was inaccurate," Ehmke said. "We were all here just ready to leave for Thanksgiving vacation and this hit the fan."
The Lynx (5-8-2) are in last place in the ECHL South Division. They'll face fourth-place Gwinnett (6-6-3) on the road tonight before returning home for a Saturday night game against fifth-place Charlotte (5-8-2).
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUGUSTA LYNX OWNERSHIP TIMELINE
June 1998: George Gillespie purchased the Raleigh Ice Caps with the intentions of moving the team to Augusta.
Nov. 22, 2002: Gillespie introduced Augusta Ice Sports Center co-owner Pete Budwick as a minority owner, the first local member of ownership.
Sept. 24, 2003: The ECHL approved the sale of the Augusta Lynx to Augusta Entertainment LLC, a local group led by car dealership owner Frank Lawrence. The new group, which purchased the team for just over $1 million, also included William S. Morris III, chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co., and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle.
April 20, 2006: The ECHL approved the sale of the Lynx to the Group Operating the Augusta Lynx (G.O.A.L.). The new group was led by local businessman Dan Troutman, who still owns the team along with Jan Hodges Burch and Robert Burch.
-- Billy Byler