Originally created 01/02/00

Lambert, Buzak still waiting for their big breaks



They could wrack their brains trying to make sense of the hands they've been dealt, but Augusta Lynx goalies Judd Lambert and Mike Buzak both have been around long enough to understand how pro hockey works.

In November, when the Orlando Solar Bears of the International Hockey League needed a backup goaltender, they called on Lambert rather than summoning Scott Fankhouser from their ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Grrrrowl.

Two months later, after playing just one game for Orlando, Fankhouser is in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers, while Lambert, despite a more extensive resume, remains stuck in the East Coast Hockey League.

In October, the New Jersey Devils sent first-round pick J-F Damphousse to Augusta for more seasoning, and Buzak was the No. 1 netminder for the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany, N.Y.

Three months later, the 20-year-old Damphousse was summoned to Albany after mixed results with the Lynx, while the 26-year-old Buzak -- a five-year veteran who led the IHL in goals-against average two years ago -- temporarily has been exiled to the Coast.

Funny how the game works.

It's a game Lambert and Buzak agree boils down to timing.

"I heard guys say in my first year with the Devils that when you get you're break, it's all about timing and about making the most of your opportunities," Lambert said. "You've got to give Fankhouser credit for making the most of his opportunity, and you hope J-F can do the same now in Albany.

"At the same time, when guys move up, unfortunately some guys have to come the other way. That's the situation (Buzak) is in, and that's just the way it works. They know who they want, and sometimes, they have to break some eggs to make an omelet."

Fankhouser signed with Atlanta after playing the past four years at the University of Lowell (Mass.). The rookie went 6-1-0 with a 2.58 goals-against average in seven starts with Greenville and made just one start for Orlando before being recalled by the Thrashers last week.

In his first two appearances, Fankhouser led the Thrashers to a comeback tie in Philadelphia and a near-upset 3-2 overtime loss in Detroit on Dec. 28. He is only the second player to make the jump to the NHL after beginning a season in the ECHL.

"It could have been me, I guess, but it could have been anyone," said Lambert, who was 1-1-0 with a 3.02 goals-against average in two starts for Orlan do in November before being re turned to Augusta. "I'm not feeling sorry for myself. It's part of the game."

Buzak, too, seems to have landed on his feet from this latest set back in his career.

"When something like this happens, a lot of times it's not any thing you've done," Buzak said. "It's a situation where you're in a numbers game, and when an organization has younger players and investments that are larger in that player, guys like myself have to move around. J-F's a first-round pick. I was surprised they ever sent him down to the Coast to begin with."

In his first season under con tract with the Devils last year, Buzak went 22-13-3 with a 2.57 GAA, but was 3-9-2 this season with a respectable 3.17 GAA for the worst team in the AHL.

His stay in Augusta should be brief, though. New Jersey is trying to loan him out to an IHL team.

"Mike was struggling at times, and it comes down to an age thing, and it comes down to a prospect thing," Albany coach John Cunniff told the Albany Times Union. "And Damphousse was in Augusta playing for a poor team."

And now, Lambert and Buzak -- who have played in 256 profes sional games with a combined life time 3.25 goals-against average -- are playing for a poor team in Au gusta.

Funny, eh, how the game works.

SWINSON'S ARRIVAL:

Newly acquired defenseman Wes Swinson did not make his debut Friday against South Carolina, as coach Dan Wiebe had originally hoped.

The 24-year-old Swinson, acquired Thursday from Greensboro for rookie defenseman Mike Piersol, is expected to join the Lynx on Tuesday, when the play ers return from a three-day break.

Piersol also did not play for Greensboro in a 5-4 shootout loss at Greenville on Friday.

EX-LYNX UPDATE:

Forward Mike Schultz, released by the Lynx in mid-December, is off to a great start with the Knoxville Speed of the United Hockey League, with four goals and one assist in his first four games.

"They're a great bunch of guys," Schultz told the Knoxville News-Sentinel, referring to his new teammates. "It's great the way they accepted me."

Forward Henry Kuster has remembered the Alamo.

The 22-year-old recently signed on with his third team this season, the San Antonio Iguanas of the Central Hockey League, and has no goals and one assist in his first four games.

Kuster was waived by the Lynx in November, then was released by Jacksonville after just four games with the Lizard Kings.

Coming off of reconstructive knee surgery last season, which limited him to just 20 games, Kuster had one goal and one assist in nine games for Augusta this season.

ReachRob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com