NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Bring on the new millennium.
After watching the Augusta Lynx end the 20th century with another disappointing effort, a 6-4 loss to the South Carolina Stingrays, all that remains for this troubled team is the promise of a fresh start as the next thousand years begin.
The Lynx played out of sync and played without fire Friday, dropping their sixth straight contest, which sends them into a three-day New Year's respite at 10-21-2 -- the second-worst record in the East Coast Hockey League.
Sure, they got goals from unlikely sources, like captain Dan Kopec's first of the year.
Sure, they flipped on the switch for the final 10 minutes, making it a one-goal contest on goals by Andrei Chouroupov and Dean Tiltgen before the Stingrays iced it on an empty-net goal by Doug Schmidt with 36 seconds remaining.
But all the breakdowns in their own zone, all the second and third chances allowed in front of their own net, all the stupid penalties added up to another depressing loss that coach Dan Wiebe never imagined for this team when the season began.
"When is it gonna end? When are we gonna realize we have to come out flying to start the first period and play for 60 minutes?" said Wiebe, a former South Carolina player and assistant coach.
"I'm tired of the same old (crap) every night. I'm tired of half the guys showing up, and of so many undisciplined guys taking needless penalties. If that's the way they're gonna play, I've got to do something."
Suddenly, that seven-game unbeaten streak in early December, the one that seemingly erased an abysmal 3-14-1, has itself been erased.
It's as if the Y2K bug completely wiped it from the memory banks.
Auld Lang Sigh.
"A few weeks ago, we thought we'd turned it around," said Tiltgen, whose goal with 3:01 remaining made it a 5-4 contest. "I don't know what happened. It's like we're right back where we started."
South Carolina (15-13-4) started strong, scoring four goals in the opening 29 minutes of the contest to chase goaltender Mike Buzak -- a fifth-year pro making his first start for the Lynx after a demotion from Albany of the American Hockey League.
The 27-year-old Buzak was shellshocked, facing 27 shots in less than 1 1/2 periods of action, and was pulled in favor of Judd Lambert midway through the second period.
"We gave up too many opportunities right on top of the goaltender," Wiebe said. "It's hard to fault the goaltender with a scenario like that."
By the time the Lynx regrouped in the third period, it was too late to overcome the Stingrays (15-13-4), who extended their home unbeaten streak to nine games at 7-0-2 and beat the Lynx for the second time in nine days at North Charleston Coliseum.
Not the way anyone wanted to begin the new millennium, not to mention the three-day vacation Wiebe promised the players weeks ago.
"Mentally, maybe you look forward to the break, but you really want to redeem yourself," said Lynx playerassistant coach Louis Dumont, who failed to bury several scoring chances Friday.
"We're tired of losing, so at this point, you wish you could get back out there tomorrow. I know I do. I need to start scoring some goals and helping this club pull out of this."
The Lynx could barely break out of their own zone, much less generate any offense, in the opening period.
They were outshot 17-5 and outscored by the Stingrays 2-0 on goals by Chris Wheaton and Joe Ciccarello, the latter on a power play -- which came as no surprise against a Lynx penalty-killing unit that has fallen to sixth-worst in the league.
Forward Sandy Lamarre, who hasn't seen a regular shift in weeks, got the Lynx back into the game early in the second period.
After serving a two-minute hooking penalty, Lamarre emerged from the penalty box, scooped up a loose puck in his own end, carried it the length of the ice, and stuffed a backhander past Rays goalie Jody Lehman for his fifth goal of the year at 2:55.
But the momentum was quickly snatched away at the midway point of the period, as back-to-back goals by Wiebe's former Rays roommate Brett Marietti and Mike Nicholishen in a span of 2:25 gave South Carolina a 4-1 lead.
Nicholishen's goal, on a one-timer which beat Buzak five hole, prompted Wiebe to make the change in net. And again the Lynx somehow mustered a charge, this time on the power play with eight minutes left in the second.
Cashing in on a two-man advantage, Kopec netted his first goal of the year and third of his ECHL career on a wrist shot from the top of the right circle through traffic in front of a screened Lehman that made it 4-2.
South Carolina then tallied what proved an important insurance goal -- Ciccarello's second of the game on a power-play that made it 5-2.
The late goals by Tiltgen and Chouroupov made for an interesting finish to what was another uninteresting, uninspired 60 minutes of Lynx hockey.
"We battle back late, which was nice, I guess, but it's not enough," Wiebe said. "Something has got to get through to these guys. We're still making the same mistakes we made at the start of the season."
There is some solace. 1999 is finally over.
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