Originally created 12/31/98

Effect of Lynx players absence unknown

You don't have to be a math major to see the correlation between the success of the Augusta Lynx and the play of All-Stars Jonas Soling and Jaroslav Obsut.

If only coach Dan Wiebe could guarantee their absence won't be as devastating to the team as their impact was during the first 31 games.

Early in the week, Soling and Obsut were called up to the American Hockey League. This in the wake of the bad news that defenseman Alex LaPorte would miss up to five weeks with a fractured bone in his foot. Then forward Stewart Bodtker was called up to Syracuse on Wednesday.

How the first-place Lynx (18-11-2) respond tonight to the tumultuous doings, as they play host to the Florida Everblades at the Civic Center, remains to be seen.

"You obviously have to say our offense will be affected and it's going to put pressure on some of the other guys to step up their level of play," said the shell-shocked second-year coach. "It's going to be tough to play up to the same level we've been playing at, but at the same time, it's going to be a test of our character as team. It will be interesting, now that we're going through some adversity, to see how we respond."

The rookie Soling was promoted to Syracuse on Tuesday. Soling, selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the third round of the 1996 entry draft, leads the team and all ECHL rookies in scoring (22 goals, 35 points). Obsut was sent to the St. Louis Blues' AHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass., on a 25-game loan agreement. The second-year pro from Slovakia led the league with a plus-17 rating and was third among defensemen in scoring (nine goals, 18 points).

When it comes to Augusta's great start this season, the numbers posted by the team's ECHL All-Star representatives tell the story. The tandem has accounted for 28 percent of the team's goals and, in the Lynx's 18 victories, each had the game-winning goal four times.

What's more, the Lynx are 14-0 when either Soling or Obsut scores at least one goal (8-0 when Obsut scores, 14-3-1 when Soling scores and 7-0 when they both score at least one goal in the same game). And in games when neither player has found the net, Augusta is 4-7-2, and is 2-6 when both are held without a goal or an assist.

But, if all goes well, help is on the way. Wiebe is hopeful that winger Henry Kuster, who has been out since Nov. 15 with a knee injury, will return to the lineup tonight. Kuster had five goals and 10 points, including two game-winning goals, in 14 games before the injury. He will dress if the Lynx get clearance from the New Jersey Devils, who own the rights to the 21-year-old rookie.

"I don't think losing Jaro and Jonas completely changes the look of our team," Wiebe said. "We've lost two good offensive players but will also be gaining back Hank Kuster, who's an offensive player and solid defender. It hurts a bit on defense because we're losing (LaPorte), as well, but we've got Sam Ftorek, who is a versatile player who can play defense. That softens the blow a bit."

Along with moving Ftorek, who has split time at forward and defense this season, to a full-time assignment on the blueline, Wiebe also thinks moving to defense seldom-used winger Richard Irwin, a physical presence who has dressed for only 10 of the first 31 games, will help.

"I'm looking for Rich to show what he can do," Wiebe said. "I used him some on defense last year (in Raleigh), and I think he'll do a good job."

Wiebe also remains cautiously optimistic that Soling and Obsut will return soon. He was told by officials in Vancouver and Syracuse that the 20-year-old Swede could be back as early as next week, and is hopeful that Obsut could return sometime in the coming weeks.

In the interim, Wiebe has contacted several coaches and general managers around the league about possible trades or free-agent signings, but he does not expect a deal to materialize.

Rob Mueller covers hockey for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com.


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