Originally created 04/28/00

Lynx pave way for other sports



The best game in the Augusta Lynx's two-year history ended early into Thursday's first overtime when Jonas Soling one-timed a fluttering puck past the outstretched glove of Greenville Grrrowl goalie Nick Vitucci, making the Lynx's improbable playoff run last at least one more day.

Don't defrost the ice, boys. Keep the crooked arena football crossbars under covers. There's still some hockey to be played, tonight, in sleepy-no-more Augusta.

The 4-3 win inside the jumping Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center happens to be the Lynx's fifth when facing elimination and a summer of golfing tee times throughout Canada. Why does it seem that when the Lynx's heels are dangling so perilously off the cliff, they're able to avoid that final shove so superbly?

Maybe because the Lynx realize they're playing with house money, going three rounds into the ECHL playoffs when in January they would have trouble spelling playoffs.

Maybe because they know they've finally won Augusta over, that any step they take will be revered and caressed by a new corps of hockey converts.

"This team is really loose because no one thought we'd be here," captain Dan Kopec said.

Whatever the reason, let it be said these Lynx are the event in town, the Masters excluded. Two years removed from relocation, the dissenters about hockey's ability to sustain interest have all been silenced.

Maybe one day Thursday's edge-of-the-seat action may be seen as the benchmark, the night when Augusta truly became a hockey town. The throaty 3,614 -- one that looked larger and certainly sounded larger -- showed how crucial a home crowd can be in lifting a downtrodden team's spirit.

And there were so many stars on ice this night as well.

Lambert was his usual stonewall self, outdueling Vitucci in an impromptu Contortion Olympics. Two of the three goals Lambert allowed came when Greenville had 5-on-3 first-period advantages, so don't blame him.

He stopped a two-on-one two minutes into the extra session, and without his backbone, the Lynx players would be spread throughout Canada by now.

Then there was Kopec, the agitating captain. Wasn't Kopec in the middle of everything Thursday?

He took a silly slashing penalty seconds after the Lynx took a 1-0 lead, which led to the Grrrowl's first 5-on-3. And when it seems the penalties were heavy in the Grrrowl's favor, it was Kopec's duty as captain to get in referee Jeff Smith's face and plead for some whistle equality.

"I was saying `Hey, come on, we wouldn't mind it if you gave us one,"' Kopec said. "Begging, in a nice way, you know."

You can see a kind Kopec telling Smith: "Please, Mr. Referee, stop being so nice to Greenville and give the home team a call or I'll spear you with my stick like the junkyard dog that I am."

Not only did he find himself in Smith's face, Kopec found himself butting heads with Grrrowl center Justin Cardwell. And whenever there was a post-whistle scrum, there was Kopec, usually leading the jawing and the face rubs.

"My job tonight was to stick my nose in everything," Kopec said. "We had to play more in-your-face hockey, and I think we did."

And wouldn't you know it, the defensemen scored Augusta's third goal, his second goal these playoffs, 13 seconds into the second period.

"Vitucci was trying to clear and threw it off the defender's skate," Kopec said. "Pretty lucky, really."

So what now? Will there be any reserve remaining in the already empty tanks? Are there any more drops in the drying towel?

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.