Originally created 06/09/01

Augusta-Macon rivalry a natural



The Augusta Lynx are on the verge of their first in-state rivalry.

The Macon Whoopee, which currently is a member of the Central Hockey League, are expected to join the East Coast Hockey League for the 2001-02 season.

Whoopee owners reportedly have agreed in principle to a deal to purchase the troubled Tallahassee Tiger Sharks and relocate the franchise to Macon. The team will retain the Whoopee nickname.

Lynx owners George and Peter Gillespie also have been negotiating to become part owners of the Whoopee to help facilitate the move to the ECHL. The league allows groups to own multiple teams.

Macon's entry into the ECHL is expected to be approved this weekend at the league meetings in Orlando, Fla.

"From everything I've heard, it looks like it's going to happen," Lynx general manager Mike Pierson said. "We'll have an answer by Monday."

The addition of Macon and the expansion Columbia Inferno will benefit the Lynx greatly. In addition to creating more fan interest with geographic rivalries, the Lynx also would play more games closer to Augusta and spend less on travel.

The Lynx likely will play Macon and Columbia eight to 10 times each this season.

"From a financial and a marketing standpoint, it's great for us," Pierson said. "There are a lot of smaller towns in between here and Macon and here and Columbia that haven't been exposed to hockey, and this will open up doors for all of us and bring more fans into our building. It's an absolute plus for us travel-wise, because we'll have less overnight stays."

BENCH BOSSES: The winningest, most controversial coach in ECHL history is back.

The Wheeling Nailers named John Brophy head coach June 1. The 68-year-old Brophy had been out of hockey since the Hampton Roads Admirals played their final season in Norfolk, Va., in 1999-2000 and went dormant to clear the way for an American League expansion franchise. Brophy, who employs a fiery and abrasive coaching style, has been recovering from injuries suffered in a near-fatal car crash last summer.

The former Toronto Maple Leafs coach is 416-250-72 in 11 ECHL seasons, all with the Admirals. He led them to titles in 1991, 1992 and 1998. In his 27-year pro coaching career, his 964 victories ranks second all time to former New York Islanders coach Al Arbour.

Brophy inherits a Wheeling club that went 24-40-8 and missed the playoffs for a third straight season. The club fired first-year coach Alain Lemieux (Mario's older brother) in March.

Two other ECHL coaching vacancies were filled May 31.

The Florida Everblades named Gerry Fleming coach after Fleming led Tallahassee to a 38-27-7 record in his first season there.

The T-Sharks missed the playoffs because of a league-imposed penalty for salary cap violations. Fleming was not part of the violations.

Fleming replaces two-time ECHL coach of the year Bob Ferguson, who resigned in May to become head coach of Des Moines in the United States Hockey League - the American equivalent of major junior hockey in Canada.

And in Greensboro, former Macon Whoopee coach Graeme Townshend is the Generals' new boss.

The 25-year-old Townsend went 57-62-21 in three seasons with Macon. He became the first Jamaican-born player to play in the National Hockey League in the early 1990s, playing 45 games with the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. He replaces Jeff Brubaker, who was fired after the Generals went 46-82-14 the past two seasons.

The Generals, who have been hurting at the box office, also announced they would play 10 of its home games in Winston-Salem, N.C., next season.

LEAGUE SHUFFLING: The long-rumored merge of the Central League and Western Professional Hockey League was completed last week, and the 56-year-old International League folded on Wednesday.

The collapse of the IHL means the ECHL will gain more affiliations and see a significant jump in talent as more quality players previously playing in the IHL will be looking for work in the ECHL.

The AHL now is the only Triple-A minor league below the NHL, while the ECHL now is the only Double-A level league that is unionized through the Professional Hockey Players Association.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com