The new guy skated them into the ice, but the players loved every exhausting minute of it.
After laboring through a grueling skating drill known as "suicides," the Augusta Lynx indeed were a tired bunch.
But as new coach Jim Burton's first practice drew to a close Monday morning, the players hailed the workout as an exciting start to what they hope is a momentous next phase of their Lynx careers.
"This was great today," said assistant captain Dean Tiltgen, who played for Burton with the Arkansas GlacierCats of the Western Professional Hockey League in 1998-99.
"We learned a lot in one day. I think this is going to be the start of a great 34-, 35-game run for us."
It was a momentous day all around for Burton, the 39-year-old coach who was hired Saturday after the Lynx fired first-year coach Scott MacPherson on Dec. 31.
"It's been a whirlwind," said Burton, who arrived in Augusta late Sunday evening after driving from his home in Fort Wayne, Ind. "Today was just a chance to take a look at the team. I tried to keep it pretty simple. I didn't want there to be too much confusion because I wouldn't be able to tell what the guys can do. It was a good first day."
After meeting with the players for about 45 minutes, Burton and the Lynx hit the ice at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
A standout defenseman for 16 pro seasons, mostly in the International Hockey League, Burton focused his first practice on defensive-zone play and breakouts - both major trouble spots for the Lynx this season.
Burton will begin implementing more of his systems today in preparation for his East Coast Hockey League coaching debut Thursday, when the Lynx play host to the Florida Everblades.
"We looked offensive, which is great," said Burton, who inherits a Lynx club that is last in the Southeast Division with a 15-16-4 record. "There's certainly some areas where a little bit of extra work could go a long way."
As for the hard skate at the end of practice, it was designed as both a conditioning drill and to help Burton evaluate the players' abilities and levels of fitness.
"That was a good practice," said Lynx winger Sandy Lamarre, who played for El Paso of the Western Pro league against Burton, Tiltgen and Arkansas two seasons ago. "That was the first time I sweated all year in practice, that's for sure."
Lynx center Lars Pettersen said Burton reminds him of one of his favorite former coaches - San Jose Sharks assistant coach Rich Preston, who coached Pettersen in juniors with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
"That was probably the best practice we've had all year," Pettersen said. "Right off the bat, he comes in here and he's well respected. When he talks, guys shut the hell right up and listen to him and what he has to say."
Defenseman Tom O'Connor also was impressed with Burton's style and approach.
"I think he gave us good direction, and I like the way he stopped things in the middle of drills and did some teaching," O'Connor said. "He told us exactly what he wanted done, and no questions had to be asked."
After spending the past few days selling his former coach to teammates, Tiltgen was thrilled to see Burton make such a big first impression.
"I think he's one of the best coaches at this level and think you'll see him coaching at a higher level in the future," Tiltgen said. "We're gonna learn a lot in the next week or two, and I fully believe we'll take off from here."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birthplace: Brantford, Ontario
Residence: Fort Wayne, Ind.
Family: Married with two sons, Kel (9) and Ryan (6)
Head coaching record: 104-79-25 in three seasons as head coach in Western Professional Hockey League
Playing career highlights: Named International Hockey League's top defenseman three straight seasons; member of Austrian National Team, played in 1994 Olympics; tallied 30 goals and 64 assists for 94 points for IHL's Fort Wayne Komets in 1985-86
Did you know?: Burton works as a PGA golf professional in Fort Wayne during the off-season and aspires to one day join the Senior PGA Tour.
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