Florida Everblades at Augusta Lynx (18-11-2)
When: 6:05 p.m.
Where: Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center
Radio: WGOR-FM 93.9
Tickets: Limited number available at box office or through Ticketmaster at (706) 828-7700
ABOUT THE EVERBLADES
The expansion Everblades have cooled off a bit after a flying start, but still remain a formidable threat for a playoff spot out of the Southeast Division, despite playing their first 13 games on the road awaiting the completion of their 7,500-seat Everblades Arena in Ft. Myers. Under coach Bob Ferguson, the Blades thrive on a defensive-minded system and outstanding goaltending. Florida is second in the ECHL in goals-against (2.73 per game) and lead the league in shots against, holding opponents to just 24.7 per game. And when goalie Marc Magliarditi has been tested this season, he's come through. Magliarditi was third in the ECHL through Wednesday with a 2.48 goals-against average and was second in wins (12). Offensively, all-star center Pat Mikesch leads the way with 14 goals and 28 points to go with a plus-15 rating and 21.9 shooting percentage. Left winger Eric Boulton is one of the top power forwards in the league with 20 points (8 goals-12 assists) and a team-high 112 PIMs. This is also a solid road team -- the Blades were 8-6-0 away from home through Wednesday.
KEYS FOR THE LYNX
Welcome to Day One, A.J.J. (after Jonas and Jaroslav). All-Stars Jonas Soling and Jaroslav Obsut were called up to the AHL earlier this week and, combined with the loss of captain Alex LaPorte (out 3-5 weeks with fractured foot) and Stewart Bodtker (called up by Syracuse on Wednesday), the Lynx have suffered a serious blow and quickly must find a way to overcome the adversity. With a loss tonight, the team easily could start believing it can't win without its departed stars. To flounder offensively could especially damage its psyche. To avoid such problems, veterans Bob Berg and Darren Colbourne must continue their strong play of late and prove they can lead the way, and younger players like Bryan Duce also must pick up the slack. They'll be thin on the blueline without Obsut and LaPorte, so there isn't a better time than now for defensemen Chad Wilson and Garry Gruber to step up their games.
NOTES AND QUOTES
In the aftermath of what proved a difficult few days for the Lynx earlier this week, coach Dan Wiebe learned that some help was on the way.
The Lynx likely will get goaltender Tim Keyes from their AHL affiliate in Syracuse in time for tonight's game, but gave up Bodtker.
Augusta has been without a capable second goaltender since Joaquin Gage was loaned to Portland of the AHL in late October. The Lynx recently signed their third backup in 21-year-old Eoin McInerney to provide insurance behind starter Judd Lambert. But McInerney, a rookie who posted less-than-stellar numbers in junior and has appeared in just six pro games this season with Macon of the CHL and Monroe of the WPHL, has not played for the Lynx.
Keyes, who is in his second AHL season, has been relegated to No. 3 status behind Mike Valley, who was brilliant in two games (2-0, one shutout) with the Lynx earlier this season, and Craig Hillier. In just six games, Keyes is 1-4 with a 3.74 goals-against average at Syracuse.
Lambert has been a rock in net during his two-month long run as the No. 1 netminder, starting 23 of 25 games. The 24-year-old Lambert is 12-10-2 with a 3.41 goals-against average, but could be even better, Wiebe thinks, with an occasional night off.
Banking on Hank
With this week's roster pillaging, the return of winger Henry Kuster has never been more critical, and Wiebe is hoping he gets the OK from the New Jersey Devils to activate the 21-year-old rookie today.
Kuster, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 15 with a knee injury, was eligible to come off injured reserve last Saturday, but the Lynx have not gotten clearance from the Devils, who own his rights, to do so.
In 14 games before the injury, the former second-round pick of the Boston Bruins had five goals and 10 points and also contributed on the defensive end.
"We're really looking forward to the return of Hank, and I'm hoping New Jersey says OK," Wiebe said. "They just want to make sure he's 100 percent and don't want to rush him."
Earlier this week, Kuster underwent strength tests on the surgically-repaired right knee, and the results revealed that the injured leg was stronger than his left leg. Wiebe hopes that's all the evidence he needs to convince Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to give him the green light to activate Kuster.
"Getting Hank back would definitely cushion the blow," Wiebe said, referring to the promotions of Soling and Obsut. "He played great for us before he got hurt."
New Year's Auction
The special jerseys worn by the Lynx for tonight's game and for the New Year's Day contest vs. Charlotte will be sold at an auction following Friday's game to benefit the American Lung Association's "Champ Camp."
The bidding on each customized jersey starts at $100. The live auction will be held in the Lynx Den at the Civic Center, but fans unable to make it on New Year's Day can submit a silent bid at the American Lung Association booth at tonight's game.
Champ Camp is a five-day summer program for kids 6-12 who require asthma medication.
For more info, contact Lynx public relations director Christy Moore at (706) 724-4ICE.
-- Rob Mueller