Scott MacPherson's first trimester as coach of the Augusta Lynx has been eventful, to say the least.
After 24 games, the Lynx have fallen short of the lofty goals MacPherson set for the team upon his hiring in June. Heading into tonight's showdown at home against the mighty Trenton Titans - holders of the best overall record in the ECHL - the Lynx find themselves in last place in the Southeast Division with a 9-13-2 record.
"Last year, the team had four wins at this same point, and we have nine with a lineup that's been beaten up by injuries and suspensions," said MacPherson, referring to the team's miserable start under coach Dan Wiebe last season. "We're obviously not where we want to be, but I also don't see us being as unsuccessful as people make us out to be."
That was the underlying theme for MacPherson as he discussed the state of the Lynx and his first two months as a head coach in more than two hours of interviews with The Augusta Chronicle over the past two days.
Q: You've conducted some long practices the past few days. What has been the focus this week?
A: We're making a recommitment to the defensive zone. Teams have been killing us by cycling us where we couldn't or didn't react quick enough and pucks ended up in the back of net. So we've worked on tightening as much as possible to get to the point where the puck's in our zone a lot less.
Q: You're next to last in the league in defense. Are you satisfied with the blue line personnel?
A: I'm pretty confident in the guys. I think it's the concept of team defense that has been lacking. We need the forwards coming back helping out. I don't think it's a certain position or a certain guy.
Q: When you say there's a need to refocus defensively, what are the problem areas specifically?
A: I'm not sure. I think guys lost their confidence a little. I think now they're starting to realize we have to pay a little bit more of a price for success than an hourlong practice each day.
Q: So, you've held longer practices and picked up the intensity. Why haven't you done that all along?
A: I don't think the intensity was lacking before. But, now, we simply want to make sure we're completely ready for every contest. If it means staying out longer to get things right, then we're going to stay out longer.
Q: With Paul Gamsby on the ice, do you feel he's looking over your shoulder?
A: Paul hasn't said to me "You need to do this or that." He's come off the ice saying he feels really positive about the team. Everyone else in the world has their boss get a chance, at some point, to evalute how you're doing your job.
Q: Are you starting to feel any heat? Is your job safe?
A: I feel I'm safe. I feel it's a work in progress, that our best hockey is in front of us.
Q: Are you still looking to upgrade through trades or signings?
A: I don't think we're actively looking, but you never know what may arise. You can make excuses and keep changing the equation, but the bottom line is we need to take our guys and make them more accountable.
Q: You talk a lot about accountability. For what do you hold yourself accountable?
A: For preparation. For creating an environment for the players that they enjoy coming to the rink and also know we're going to work when we come to the rink. I hold myself accountable in a sense that we need to get the most out of every guy individually every night for the team to be successful.
Q: Given that, how would you rate your performance?
A: I'd give myself a B-minus or a C-plus across the board. Right now, the reason for that grade is because our team hasn't been successful. The recruitment of good players is there. The providing of the environment and the systems to be successful is there. Now I have to make sure the guys are as driven as I am every night. I'm 24 games into my professional head coaching career. I would like to think I've learned an awful lot over the last two months and will continue to learn an awful lot.
Q: Did you underestimate the ECHL and the demands of being a head coach?
A: No. I didn't think it was going to be easy. I knew there would be adversity. I didn't think we'd have the injuries, the suspensions and all the things I couldn't control. I think if we had Lars Pettersen playing 24 games, it would have made a difference. I think having Judd Lambert around for 20 games might have made a little bit of a difference.
Q: Is the disappointing start your fault?
A: I don't take the blame in the process because we have a good team here. I don't think there's a lot more I can do, honestly. The video is done for the guys every Monday. The players are treated very well and come to the rink every day knowing the practices address the needs and the issues of what the team needs to work on to be successful. Now, it's just a matter of moving forward.
Q: When you arrived in Augusta, you promised the fans a winner. Attendance at Lynx games is down this year. Do you feel you've let the fans down, or perhaps have even turned some fans off?
A: If they're real fans, they shouldn't be turned off. They should be understanding of the injuries and other stuff we've gone through, plain and simple. I was at a booster club meeting (Tuesday) night and the people were excited to be around us. As for attendance, it's down across the board in all of pro hockey, and our percentage is down less than the average in pro hockey.
Q: So you're saying you haven't heard any negative comments from the fans?
A: You've got a few people on the radio show and on the Internet. But nobody to my face has said "You guys just aren't measuring up." They may be saying different things to you. But to my face, they say "Just keep plugging along, coachey, things are going to get better."
Q: Do you believe the players all are on the same page? Any dissension in the ranks?
A: I don't think there's any dissension. It's very positive being around these guys. You find a lot of people always want to point out the negatives, but there's a lot of positives with this team. It's only a matter of time before they really start showing that.
Q: When will that time come? You've got three big games this weekend and seven in the next nine days. Almost everyone is healthy now and it seems there are no more excuses. So is it now do-or-die time for this hockey team?
A: It was do-or-die last weekend. They're all important games now. We obviously know we have three very difficult games this weekend. We need to answer the bell. That's it.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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