Minor league hockey will be reintroduced to Augusta today at James Brown Arena. An ownership group with intentions to bring a Southern Professional Hockey League expansion team to town will be introduced at a 10 a.m. news conference and plans to announce that the arena will play host to hockey again after more than a year without a team.
The news conference will also serve as a chance for the public to warm up to the ownership group and concept of a new team. Many fans of the last hockey team in town, the Augusta Lynx, said they're approaching the new venture with caution. Others are ready and willing to support a new team in a new league.
Beech Island resident Patricia Pinkston, a former Lynx season ticket holder, is one of the hesitant ones. She and the other 2008-09 season ticket holders were left with a stack of worthless tickets when the Lynx folded two months into the season, and the wounds haven't healed.
"We got conned," she said. "Financially, I can't afford to buy more tickets when I'm out the $700 already."
Pinkston said she wouldn't purchase any more hockey tickets until she was reimbursed for the old Lynx tickets. A group of five former Lynx season ticket holders looking for similar retribution filed a lawsuit in April seeking more than $3,000 from Lynx ownership, but the group dropped the suit over the summer on the advice of lawyers.
SPHL commissioner Jim Combs, who will reveal the new ownership group at today's news conference, said the owners are unaffiliated with the old Lynx ownership group and "shouldn't be held responsible for anything in the past."
Combs called the local fans' apprehension a "legitimate concern," and his introduction today will most likely include a request to fans to give the new team a chance.
Some former Lynx season ticket holders will do just that, including Mike Luxenberg, who said he had been a Lynx season ticket holder since the team first came to town more than a decade ago.
"There's a fair amount of distrust right now with hockey fans here," Luxenberg said. "I think these new owners have to do something. They ought to give first priority to the previous season ticket holders and let them get their old seats back or get seats together."
Such a deal would be difficult for a new team to pull off. Combs said the new ownership group does not have access to records identifying past season ticket holders of a defunct team. The Lynx played in the ECHL, which has no affiliation with the SPHL, so no help could come from the league office, either.
But Combs hinted that there might still be some type of promotion for loyal fans.
"They're looking at some things they can do in that regard," Combs said of the new ownership group. "I want to make sure I say again that they shouldn't be held responsible for anything in the past. It's not fair to them. But I do know that they are going to try to do something anyway."
Former Lynx coach Jim Burton said he's aware of the anger and distrust held by many local hockey fans but said he thinks they'll eventually latch on to the new team.
"It would certainly be great if they can do something for the season ticket holders, because they're as loyal a group as they can be. But I don't know if that's economically possible," Burton said.
"I do think this team will be a better fit for Augusta. It's a run-and-gun style and a little more physical. People are going to like it."