Those seedy TV soap operas have nothing on the Augusta Lynx this season.
What once was the continuing story of an East Coast Hockey League team and the fans who love them now is a full-fledged daytime drama, complete with enough rumor and innuendo to make the General Hospital writers jealous.
For those caught up in the talk of the hiring of a new coach and of angry owners pulling the team out of Augusta, there was a hockey game played Friday night at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. And a pretty significant one at that, considering it was Game 1 of the post-Scott MacPherson era.
But in spite of all the juicy gossip, the Lynx somehow crafted a dramatic story of their own on the ice, as Lars Pettersen's second goal of the night with 5:19 left in the third period lifted them to a 4-2 victory over the Richmond Renegades.
They played without a head coach in the wake of MacPherson's firing on Sunday, just 33 games into his tenure. They played short-handed, depleted by injuries and illness. But the Lynx still gutted one out and came through with an important win against one of the league's top teams.
With general manager Paul Gamsby and injured player/assistant coach Louis Dumont running the show from the bench, the Lynx overcame an early deficit to win for the sixth time in nine games, improving their record to 15-16-3.
"They really took this bull by the horns, and they did it out of pride," said an exhausted Gamsby, who spent the week both coaching and searching for a new head coach. "They didn't want to lose tonight. I told them at the beginning of the week to forget all the baloney they were going to read all week long; that doesn't affect us. All we need is two points Friday, and we'll worry about Saturday night Saturday."
Pettersen delivered with his second two-goal game of the season, and goalie Erasmo Saltarelli came through with another spectacular effort, recording 40 saves in his 10th straight start.
"These guys were unbelievable tonight," Gamsby said. "I'm so proud of how they pulled together."
For a while, though, the game was lost somewhere amid two major subplots.
For starters, the arena crowd of 4,204 fans was abuzz with speculation as to whom the next head coach will be. One thing is for certain. Contrary to broadcast reports, it will not be former Lynx assistant coach Ron Filion, The Chronicle learned late Friday evening.
Then, rumors of fed-up Lynx owners packing up and leaving town as a result of an ongoing dispute with the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority ran rampant in the stands.
Lynx owners George and Peter Gillespie vehemently denied that the team was looking to leave Augusta. Said Peter Gillespie, the team's governor: "They're saying we're leaving town? ... That's absolutely ridiculous."
But there still was plenty of fuel for the fire.
An area publication's story about the team's dispute with the coliseum authority got one snowball rolling, while a Filion look-alike in attendance Friday had many fans and media speculating the Lynx had hired their former assistant coach as MacPherson's successor.
What's more, there even was a handful of overzealous fans who reported a Robbie Ftorek sighting at the game, although confirmation of the former New Jersey Devils coach's presence was tough to come by.
Gutsy performances on the ice certainly weren't, and none of the soap opera stuff mattered to the players.
"All we can think about is winning, and we can't worry about what's going on around us," said Saltarelli, who has stopped 72 of 75 shots in his past two starts. "The attitude was good all week, and even when we were down a goal tonight, the attitude was still good. Guys stayed upbeat, and we came back and won, and played pretty solid for three periods for the most part."
After Richmond (20-12-3) got goals from Forrest Gore and Mike Siklenka to take a 2-1 lead after one period, Jonas Soling tied it 2-2 with his team-leading 20th goal at 11:58 of the second.
Then, with Renegades leading scorer Richard Pitirri off for cross-checking, Pettersen came through on the late power play to seize the contest and pump up the crowd.
By the time Likit Andersson scored an empty-net goal to ice it with 21 seconds left, the soap opera temporarily was placed on hiatus.
At least until today, when Gamsby is expected to announce the Lynx's new coach.
"Nobody wants their bosses to know they were entertaining offers if they don't end up taking the job," said Gamsby, when asked why he was being so secretive about his search. Reportedly, as of Friday evening, only three or four others in the organization knew who the next coach would be.
"I did not even tell the owners who I hired until (moments before Friday's game)," Gamsby said. "We should be able to announce it (today)."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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