The Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center is far from the prettiest building in the East Coast Hockey League, but it may be the loudest thanks to its fervent hockey patrons.
No one appreciates the rowdiness more than Augusta Lynx captain Dan Kopec, the undisputed favorite of the rambunctious masses for his physical play and willingness to drop the gloves and fight for his comrades at arms.
But Kopec, his teammates, and the front office staff all are wondering how the team's loyal followers will react to an abysmal 2-8-1 start.
Wondering if the boo birds will be out in force, if fickle Augusta fans will abandon ship after their first true taste of adversity.
The answer might come tonight when the Lynx return home for the first time in three weeks to face the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (4-6-0) -- the only club the Lynx have defeated this season.
"I don't expect the fans to be hard on us, and (losing) is not something they should get used to, because this is not going to be the norm," said Kopec, whose Lynx have dropped seven of their last eight games and boast the second worst record in the league.
"We've been lucky to have great fan support so far. I hope that continues, and that the fans come in and see that we tried to adjust the problems and make changes."
Over the past week, Lynx coach Dan Wiebe has made wholesale changes. In addition to adding bruising defenseman Lucas Nehrling from Albany of the AHL, the Lynx signed diminutive yet hard-working winger Corey Smith during the team's road trip to Florida last weekend, and added several more new faces on Monday and Tuesday.
Center Stewart Bodtker and winger Paul Ferone were assigned by the Vancouver Canucks from Syracuse of the AHL, and center Stacey Rayan was acquired in a trade on Monday with Mobile for cash and future considerations.
To make room on the roster, the Lynx placed defenseman Clint Cabana on injured reserve on Monday and waived winger Hank Kuster, who had one goal and one assist with a minus-6 rating in nine games, on Tuesday.
Even with the changes, Wiebe says he won't be surprised if he is showered by Bronx cheers tonight. He also wouldn't blame fans if they did voice their displeasure.
On his weekly radio show Monday evening, the third-year coach was bombarded with calls from disgruntled fans. Before practice Tuesday afternoon, several players spoke of random encounters with unhappy season-ticket holders around town since the team returned home from their 0-3-0 road swing last weekend.
"Like any team or any city, the fans want to support a winning hockey team," Wiebe said. "We've got some great, loyal fans here, and I think they'll stand behind us, but it's the fringe fans you wonder about."
As of Tuesday afternoon, ticket sales for tonight's game and for home games Friday vs. Huntington and Sunday vs. Greenville have been solid, according to Lynx ticket manager Thomas Tomlinson. Around 2,000 seats remain for tonight and Sunday, while less than 1,000 are available for Friday's contest.
"If I go to a movie and it's a bad movie, I'll tell somebody it sucks," Lynx head trainer Brian Patafie said. "If I got to a sporting event and the team sucks, I'll let the team know it sucks. That's one of the great things about going to a sporting event. You get to cheer and you get to boo."
Owner George Gillespie would agree, although he also has been as impatient as a mercurial hockey fan hungry for a winner.
"I do believe this city wants a winning team," Gillespie said. "I hope they support us even if it is a losing team, which we hope won't be the case with the changes we're making now."
And since erasing an miserable month of hockey is impossible, Kopec is promising fans the next best thing.
"This is a new start for all of us, so (tonight) is like another home opener," Kopec said. "If we would've just sat on what we had, thinking we were going to get through this, I wouldn't blame the fans for turning and saying 'what's going on?' But we didn't stand pat. We went out and improved the hockey club, so I think the fans should come out and give us a chance."
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