With a flair for the dramatic, Bob Kerzner waited until the last possible second to officially bring minor league hockey back to Augusta.
The hockey owner began a news conference this morning in front of a standing-room only crowd by flipping through the pages of an unsigned two-year lease agreement that would solidify the sport's return.
"Y'all want hockey back in Augusta?" he asked.
The crowd of hockey fans who came out for the weekday morning announcement cheered in response, and Kerzner put his signature on the document to usher in a Southern Professional Hockey League expansion team this fall.
Kerzner and his wife, Diane, were introduced by SPHL commissioner Jim Combs as the sole owners of the new team. The Kerzners, owners of multiple McDonalds restaurants in South Carolina and a franchise owner in the SPHL for the past five years, introduced a staff that included general manager Gilles Richard, managing director Bill Coffey and assistant general manager Ken Vezina.
"What we're trying to bring to the Augusta area at this point is a lot of hockey experience," Bob Kerzner said. "If you take the people that we have assembled for this program, there's over 85 years of hockey experience coming to Augusta. And that's not even counting my wife and myself."
Former Augusta Lynx trainer Brian Patafie will also join the staff after serving in the same capacity for the Lynx from 1998-2003.
"When I learned this was going to happen, I started making the phone calls right away," Patafie said in a phone interview from Saginaw, Mich. "Nothing broke my heart more than leaving Augusta, but I saw what was happening then and had to leave. With Bill Coffey and Bob Kerzner, they are solid individuals with a good, good track record, and I wanted to be a part of that."
The majority of fans who showed up today also wanted in on the festivities. Vezina said approximately 50 fans put down $50 deposits to reserve season tickets, and an impromptu statement during the news conference from Phil Chandler, president of the Augusta Lynx fan club, officially welcomed the owners, staff and team to Augusta.
"I'm pretty sure that there are at least 95 people who are extremely delighted that there will be hockey and those are the members of the still existing Augusta Lynx Booster Club," Chandler said. "I imagine that 95 of the 95 would be delighted to form the basis for a new booster club for the Augusta team."
Combs said the new team will not carry on the old Lynx name, which is owned by the ECHL. The team will instead seek input from local fans through the SPHL web site in a name-the-team contest which will end March 13.
Bob Kerzner, who owned the SPHL's Twin City Cyclones in Winston-Salem, N.C. before the team folded last year, said the naming idea was part of a fan-friendly campaign to show how accessible the team will be to its fans. He described his ownership style as "hands-on" and invited fans to seek him out at games.
"We're going to be in the stands," he said. "My wife and I are not the type of people to sit in sky boxes or to hide in the office or stuff like that. We will be at every game, providing we're not deathly ill. We also go to away games quite a bit."
The 2010-11 season will begin in October with eight teams each playing a 56-game schedule that runs through March.