As they make their final push toward the ECHL playoffs, time is running out on the Augusta Lynx in their search for lineup help.
Lynx coach Jim Burton would like to add a third-line center and another defenseman, but their chances of signing players with pro experience ended on Saturday, because ECHL rules mandate that a player with pro experience must play in five games with a team to be eligible for that team's postseason roster. The Lynx had five regular-season games remaining entering Saturday's contest at Greensboro.
"There are a couple of guys we're looking at, but I'm not sure it's going to happen," Burton said last week. "I think we're in good shape personnel-wise, but I'd still wouldn't mind adding another centerman, perhaps another guy on the blue line."
That blueliner could end up being Cal Benazic, who recently began skating again after sitting out the past month with a knee injury suffered while playing for Manitoba of the International League. The 25-year-old Benazic has played 18 games for Augusta this season and is playoff-eligible. He would give the Lynx another outstanding two-way defenseman.
A few weeks back, the Lynx inquired about the availability of defenseman Clint Cabana, who spent parts of the past two seasons in Augusta and was playing for Fort Worth of the Western Pro league this season. The parent Vancouver Canucks wanted to reassign him to a playoff-bound team. Augusta was an option, but the Canucks instead sent him to New Haven (Conn.) of the United League, where Cabana's brother, Chad, plays.
The other remaining option is to sign a college or junior player. Teams can sign a player out of the amateur ranks and place him on the playoff roster, regardless of how many regular-season games he has played.
"I've got some contacts, both at the college level and in (Canadian major junior hockey)," Burton said. "That's a possibility for us."
Burton's brother-in-law is Providence College coach Paul Pooley. The Friars earned a spot in the 12-team NCAA Division I national tournament and played a first-round game Saturday vs. Wisconsin. The tournament runs through April 7, but if Providence is knocked out this weekend, there is a chance the Lynx could sign one the Friars' seven seniors.
"(Pooley) is going to try and help us out," Burton said. "He also knows some people (in the college ranks) that might be able to help us out, as well."
Burton especially would love to add a third center to take some of the pressure off Paul Vincent and Lars Pettersen, who center their own lines and also alternate shifts on the third line.
TILT(GEN)ING THE SCALES: Snakebitten by bad bounces of late, Lynx winger Dean Tiltgen finally caught a break in Friday's 5-3 win over Tallahassee.
With the puck laying in the crease and Tallahassee goalie Alex Fomitchev thinking it was underneath him, Tiltgen was able to sneak in and tap the puck home for his 28th goal of the season, which helped the Lynx restore their two-goal lead late in the third period.
The night before, Tiltgen came up empty on three breakaways in a 4-1 win over Pee Dee, and had suffered through similarly-frustrating results in the loss at Greenville Tuesday.
"I guess I'm back to missing, breakaways again, so it was nice to get an easy one for a change," said Tiltgen, who need two goals in the final five games for his third straight 30-goal season.
THIRTY SOMETHING: Captain Scott Morrow scored his 30th goal of the year Friday vs. the T-Sharks, giving the seventh-year pro his second 30-goal season and first since he scored a career-high 48 goals for the Hershey Bears of the American League in 1995-96.
The Lynx now have two 30-goal scorers in Morrow and Jonas Soling, who holds the club record with 38 tallies through Friday. The Lynx never have had more than two 30-goal scorers in a single season, but could end up with as many as four, with Tiltgen (28 goals) and Vincent (27) closing in on the mark.
T-SHARK TROUBLES: Tallahassee will be without its leading scorer Brent Cullaton for at least one game after he was slapped with a gross misconduct late in the third period Friday for making obscene gestures to the crowd.
Cullaton and teammate Andrew Long were involved in separate scraps with Tiltgen and Lynx defenseman John Whitwell, and Cullaton made the gesture in response to taunting by fans. A gross misconduct penalty warrants an automatic fine and one-game suspension, but Cullaton could end up getting additional games upon review of the tape by the league.
The T-Sharks problems don't end there. According to The Tallahassee Democrat, a lawsuit filed by the team against former general manager Larry Kish claims Kish made agreements to pay several of the team's NHL- and AHL-contracted players additional "under the table" money that would not count against the salary cap.
That accusation might prompt an ECHL investigation, which could result in substantial fines and jeopardize the postseason eligibility of several key players. Acting owner Michel Cadrin says payments promised by Kish - who was fired last month and is suing the team for breach of contract - never were made.
The team's lawsuit acknowledges that the alleged arrangement would violate ECHL bylaws and the league's collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players' Association, but it does not specify if payments ever were made.
FIT TO BE TIED: With the Southern Conference playoff race figuring to come down to the wire, here is a look at the ECHL's tiebreaker system.
Should two clubs finish tied in the standings, the tiebreaker order is: regular-season wins; head-to-head points; head-to-head wins; head-to-head goal differential; winning percentage against teams from the same division (if tied clubs are from the same division); winning percentage in conference play; regular season goals for; regular season goals against and coin toss.
For three-or-more clubs tied, the order is: regular-season wins; winning percentage in games between the clubs; goal differential in games between the clubs; winning percentage in divisional games; winning percentage in conference games; regular-season goals for; regular-season goals against and coin toss.