It came as no real surprise in the Augusta Lynx dressing room Monday afternoon when general manager Paul Gamsby confirmed what the players first heard the night before at a New Year's Eve party.
Nor was the news that Scott MacPherson was fired just 33 games into his first season as Lynx coach entirely unwelcome.
"It's never easy to fire a coach, but we were underachieving," said injured Lynx player/assistant coach Louis Dumont, who ran the team's New Year's Day practice along with Gamsby. "We have some really good players here, but we weren't winning. You can't trade 20 players, so sometimes it's easier to fire the coach."
Said Lynx center Lars Pettersen: "I'd heard the rumors that it might happen, so the only thing that surprised me was that it happened this quick. I hope it's going to be a good move for us. It's definitely going to be quite different around here, and I think it's going to be good to get a fresh start. Whenever you get a new coach, it's a little bit exciting, and it will be for me because I've never been through (a coaching change at midseason) before."
While several players said Monday that they liked MacPherson personally, most agreed that this was the best move for the club.
"Mac's a nice guy, no question about it, but it wasn't working out," said one player, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He told everyone we were going to be good enough to compete in the (International Hockey League, which is one step above the East Coast Hockey League). He said we weren't going to lose a game and win a championship. That (ticked) a lot of people off.
"He thought it was going to be easy," the player said. "He didn't know how good a league this is. He didn't have a clue."
With a little more than half a season still ahead of them Lynx management felt the need to make a change now while there still was time to make a serious second-half run.
The Lynx went 14-16-3 under MacPherson for the ECHL's fourth-worst record, which was deemed unacceptable by owners who expected the club to contend for a Southeast Division title after significantly upgrading the talent from the previous two seasons.
Although they are just four points out of second place in the Southeast Division, the Lynx are 7-13-2 against divisional rivals and are tied for last with the struggling Greenville Grrrowl.
Injuries played a small part in the club's November swoon, when it went 4-7-2. The Lynx played more than a month without Pettersen, last year's leading scorer, and center Andrei Chouroupov, among others. MacPherson was able to fill the void in early November by signing Rob Bonneau, a proven point producer in both the IHL and American League, but their losing ways continued.
"There was some really high expectations," Dumont said. "And there's enough talent here to be one of the top teams in the division. Maybe he underestimated the league. Maybe he had good players who would just play good and win. This is a good league. I don't know if he realized that."
If anything about the move was shocking, it was its timing.
The Lynx had bounced back from an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Pee Dee Pride on Friday with a 2-1 win over the Pride at home Saturday. The victory finished a 7-6-1 month of December, and the Lynx are 5-2-1 in their past eight games.
In the 13-year history of the ECHL, only one rookie coach was fired earlier in his tenure than MacPherson - Geoff Ward, who was dismissed by the Arkansas RiverBlades last season after only 26 games.
"It was a surprise that it happened now, especially over the New Year's," said captain Scott Morrow, whom MacPherson convinced to come to Augusta. "We were starting to win there a few games, so I think that was a bit of a shock. If we had lost four or five in a row, then you probably wouldn't have been too surprised. But I know the expectations were high, not only from the management side, but from the players' side as well.
"(MacPherson) brought in a pretty good nucleus of talent, and he really did have high hopes," Morrow said. "We were expected to be one of the front-runners at this point, and at some point, it sets in as to why we aren't at the top and what can be done to get there. I guess they felt this was a step to put us to the top. Hopefully now, we can move forward and get there."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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