If you need to track down Lynx owner George Gillespie this afternoon, he most likely can be found in the team's dressing room at the civic center, lifting a few weights, getting pumped up for tonight's contest.
Facing the Greenville Grrrowl is more than just another game for Gillespie. For the past six years, the native New Yorker has called Greenville home, so whenever the Lynx and Grrrowl meet on the ice, he admits his Irish blood gets boiling.
That's why on Greenville game days, you'll often find the 37-year-old burning off his nervous energy with a good, hard skate and a nice workout in the gym. "I can't stand Greenville," Gillespie said, laughing. "Living in the town's great. But as far as the team goes. ..."
Nothing like a little bad blood in the front office to further fan the flames of a rivalry that has been one of the most heated in the East Coast Hockey League the past two seasons.
It's no secret the Lynx and Grrrowl don't particularly like one another, at least judging by the fight-filled affairs and gong-show antics that have painted the rivalry since the teams first met in 1998. Losing to Greenville in the Southern Conference semifinals last season has only added more fuel to the Lynx's fire.
"It goes back to last year for most of us and, for some of the guys who've been around longer, it goes back two years," Lynx defenseman Wes Swinson said. "Them beating us out in the playoffs last year doesn't hurt the rivalry, either."
First blood was drawn two seasons ago in the second-ever meeting between the teams at the Bi-Lo Center. The wild contest was highlighted by Lynx superpest Chris Thompson getting double-teamed by Grrrowl enforcers Kam White and Jason Hamilton during a third-period line brawl. There was a total of 287 minutes in penalties and nine game misconducts assessed.
Last season, the rivalry's defining moment came in a Feb. 25 game at the civic center, when Grrrowl pest Yannick Jean fired a puck at the Lynx bench after Augusta scored the go-ahead goal. On the ensuing faceoff, Swinson cold-cocked Jean, knocking him out with one punch.
Hamilton, White and Jean since have moved on, while Swinson and Thompson will probably sit out tonight's game because of injuries. But no matter the names on the backs of the jerseys, the rivalry always will endure for Gillespie.
"Every time the two teams get together it's a big conflict for me with respect to the fact that I live there," Gillespie said. "My kids catch a lot of grief in school whenever we lose to Greenville. They wear their Lynx shirts and hats and stuff, and when we lose, they take all types of abuse."
Regardless of the outcome of any Lynx-Grrrowl game in Greenville, Gillespie treats the team to a special post-game meal of steak, shrimp and pasta at nearby Thornblade Country Club, where he is a member. That might have made for some awkward moments last season, when the Lynx dropped all four regular-season games and two playoff matches at the Bi-Lo Center last season, but Gillespie said he never once felt like canceling the traditional feast.
"They've gotta eat," Gillespie said. "Even Friday (in a 6-5 loss at Greenville), they came out a little flat but came back made it a good game. I was definitely a little (ticked off), but as long as they're out there trying, you can't get too down on the boys."
The players no doubt appreciate Gillespie's generosity, and say they would love to repay him with a successful showing against the Grrrowl this season.
"You see him in the dressing room before games when we play Greenville - he works out, he paces the room, he's got a little pink tint on his face, and you can just tell he's ready for the game," Swinson said. "I have to say our team has a lot of respect for George and we know the Greenville games mean a lot to him. We all know it's his hometown now. We all know it's a big game."
Lynx coach Scott MacPherson also has a good sense of the rivalry's magnitude in Gillespie's eyes.
"I dislike losing against everybody, but this game is a big one for George," MacPherson said. "It's something that we want to try to do extra well, especially at home. It's one of those things where you want to put your best foot forward against everybody, but there's a little extra incentive with Greenville because of George."
As for the Lynx's disappointing 5-8-2 start, Gillespie says he is somewhat perturbed, but not overly worried.
"We've got a lot of talent; a lot more talent than we did last year, but we're banged up," Gillespie said. "You can't do anything about the injuries. The coach has brought in some decent players, but now they've just got to get their act together. We've been outshooting every team we've played, but haven't been getting the breaks. I think we'll be all right. I've got no complaints."
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