Originally created 04/02/00

Final report card for Augusta Lynx



Staff writer Rob Mueller grades the Lynx's performance for the 1999-2000 season.

OFFENSE

It began on Jan. 7, when the Lynx set a franchise record for goals in a game with a 12-5 win over Greensboro.

Since then, they've had one of the most explosive and consistent offenses in the ECHL, sparked by what has become one of the top lines in the league.

Since becoming a unit, center Lars Pettersen, left winger Dean Tiltgen and left winger Louis Dumont have combined for 59 goals and 147 points in 35 games, and the Lynx have posted a 23-10-2 record.

But in leading the team's turnaround, the Alberta Connection hasn't been alone.

The second line has been nearly as productive the past six weeks, led by surging center Andrei Chouroupov and wingers Chris Thompson and Jonas Soling.

The addition of Paul Ferone has also bolstered the third line with center Stacey Rayan and right winger Sandy Lamarre, making for a scrappy unit that can also chip in offensively.

In Ferone -- who has played at Syracuse of the AHL for the bulk of the past two seasons -- the Lynx have added an intimidating physical presence. Ferone also might be, pound-for-pound, the best fighter in the ECHL.

Wingers Bryan Duce and Sam Ftorek, key players for the Lynx last season, have seen limited ice time of late, but have contributed when called upon, adding much-needed depth.

And to think, Jan. 7 was the day their most productive player, ECHL All-Star Wes Mason, left for good, recalled to Orlando of the IHL.

GRADE: B+ (Midterm grade: C+)

DEFENSE

They've come a long way, baby.

Though they are still the team's weakest link. the Lynx defense has gone from abysmal to respectable since the new year.

The key was the acquisition of Wes Swinson on Dec. 31, which immediately added stability and grit to a shaky blueline.

Despite a knee injury that will require surgery in the offseason, Swinson's play has been paramount to the team's improved defensive-zone play in the second half.

Ken Ruddick also has been playing his best hockey since the all-star break, giving the Lynx a defenseman who moves the puck well and makes very few mistakes in his own end.

Stay-at-home blueliner John Whitwell has been steady as usual, while Clint Cabana has added an element of toughness when he's been down from Syracuse of the AHL. The addition of Likit Andersson from Trenton in the Feb. 28 trade for Stu Bodtker has also worked out nicely, adding depth and puck skills to the blue line.

But aside from Swinson's arrival, the biggest impact of all has come from the smallest of packages.

Even though Corey Smith stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs only around 170 pounds, he has unloaded with some of the biggest hits of the season, adding an element of skill on the blueline, not to mention an immeasurable amount of heart. His positive attitude and work ethic have been a blessing on and off the ice.

GRADE: C+ (Midterm grade: D+)

GOALTENDING

Judd Lambert held the team together during their miserable first half, and he continues to hold them together during what has amounted to a two-month long playoff run.

He has made more than 30 consecutive starts in net to close out the regular season, and along the way has shattered his own franchise records for wins, minutes, games, saves and save percentage.

What's more, while the Lynx have been near the bottom of the league in shots-on-goal against all season, Lambert has a goals-against average of just more than 3.00.

You wouldn't know it by his unassuming demeanor, but the 25-year-old Lambert is a fierce competitor who isn't afraid to speak up. His intelligence and knowledge of the game also are invaluable in the dressing room.

GRADE: A (Midterm grade: B)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Despite a talented group of forwards, the Lynx power play continues to be plagued by inconsistency.

Augusta ranks 18th in the league on the power play, converting 17.5 percent of the time. It is a very streak unit. They'll score goals in bunches, then go ice cold for long stretches. That could spell their demise in the postseason.

Penalty killing has also been a disappointment. The Lynx rank 19th in the league, killing penalties at a success rate of 80.2 percent. For a team that has shown a tendency to take undisciplined penalties, their PK unit hasn't come through nearly enough.

GRADE: D (Midterm grade: F)

COACHING

A lesser coach might have packed it in three months ago, but Dan Wiebe weathered the storm.

When the team bottomed out in late November and early December, the third-year coach never hit the panic button, and instead resigned himself to working harder to find the answers.

And when management decided in February to hire assistant coach Ron Filion -- a move that was discussed over the summer but later scrapped by Lynx brass -- Wiebe welcomed him with open arms and allowed him to utilize his coaching strengths to help the club.

Through it all, Wiebe never strayed from his own philosophies and coaching style, while making a concerted effort to remain upbeat and positive all along, even through the most trying of times.

Together, the laid-back Wiebe and the fiery Filion compliment each other nicely, and the players have responded to their collective approach.

Though Wiebe admits last summer's recruiting efforts did not go as well as he had hoped, he more than made up for that with four outstanding trades this season.

The acquisition of Louis Dumont, Wes Swinson, Andrei Chouroupov and Likit Andersson through deals, as well as the November signing of Corey Smith have paid huge dividends.

GRADE: B (Midterm grade: C-)