There is so much to learn about the new-look Augusta Lynx. And so little time.
Only six players from last year's club will be on the ice for tonight's exhibition game against the Macon Whoopee. As many as 15 newcomers will be in coach Jim Burton's lineup when the season opens Oct. 12.
So, who are these guys, anyway? Where do they come from? And what will they bring to the ice in 2001-02.
But just in time for the team's fourth season, we bring you an encyclopedia of Augusta Lynx hockey.
It's everything you need to know, from A to Z.
Americans, just four in training camp with the Lynx - veterans Scott Morrow and David Wilkie and rookies Duane Hoey and Kevin Hansen. But in a sport dominated by Canadians and international players, that's still more yanks than on most rosters.
Brantford, that progressive little city in Ontario, Canada, the town that's famous for its scenic gardens and, oh yeah, some famous hockey player. Perhaps you've heard of him? He's Augusta Lynx coach Jim Burton, the pride of Brantford. And, supposedly, a few other big-time players hail from Brantford, too. New Lynx defenseman Jim Baxter is one. The other? We think it's Wayne something. You know who we mean? The guy wore No. 99 but everyone called him "The Great One."
Captain Mo, as in Scott Morrow, the leader of the Lynx on and off the ice. At 32, he showed everyone his skills hadn't at all diminished last season, finishing sixth in the ECHL in scoring despite missing all of the 1999-2000 season with an injury. With skill, toughness, and unbelievable heard, Morrow is the total package. He just might be the best all-around player in the league. Maybe we should have listed 'Mo' under 'M'. As in MVP.
Defense, they say, wins championships, or so goes the cliche. Not exactly the benchmark of the first three editions of Augusta Lynx hockey. But 'D' is Burton's forte, and it's now the strength of this club. The Lynx allowed 3.51 goals a game last year, 21st in a 25-team league. With former NHL blueliner David Wilkie, returnee Wes Swinson coming off his best pro season, and rising star Jim Baxter, among others, the Lynx could shave as much as one goal off that gaudy average this season. Can you say shutout?
Eh - pronounced 'Ay' - is a vital word in every hockey player's vocabulary. It's a word folks from the Great White North use to complete a thought or a question. "Could you give me directions to the Riverwalk, eh?" ... "We played with absolutely no emotion tonight, eh!" ... "Pardon me, waiter, but do you have any Grey Poupon, eh?" It also is the most-used word by the Mackenzie Brothers in the Canadian cult classic, Strange Brew - a must-rent flick for any self-respecting hockey fan, eh.
Fan favorites - every team has them, and they're usually the guys who aren't at all shy about dropping the mitts. In past years, Lynx fans have embraced the rough-and-tumble styles of Dan Kopec, Chris Thompson and Ken Tasker. This season, the players most likely to develop cult followings are: Jessie Rezansoff (back for a second tour of duty in Augusta), Tyler Willis and Trevor Gillies.
Goals are the name of the game, and if there is one question mark entering the 2001-02 season, it is whether the Lynx will score enough of goals to win consistently. After all, five of their six leading scorers from last season are playing elsewhere. We know Scott Morrow is good for 35-40 a year. But who else will light the lamp with regularity? Keep your eye on Wes Mason, an ECHL All-Star with the Lynx two years ago. And Guy Larose, who averaged 21 goals a season the past five years in the International Hockey League. And then there's rookies Josh St. Louis and Patrick Yetman, both offensive stars during their junior days in Canada. Can these guys replace the Solings, Dumonts and Tiltgens? Stay tuned.
Home-ice advantage in the East Coast Hockey League is crucial, and no team appreciates that more than the Lynx. Around the ECHL, players, coaches and officials alike agree Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center is one of the toughest buildings in the league for visiting teams, especially for the players from the South Carolina Upstate with the purple and gold puppy dogs on their jerseys.
Ice Sports Center is the Lynx's official practice rink, and the place where hundreds of area boys and girls first laced up a pair of skates. The Lynx will move training camp to the Ice Sports Center (formerly the IceForum) beginning Sunday, and will practice there this season when the civic center ice is not available.
Judd, and no, we're not talking Ashley, Wynona and Naomi. We're talking Lynx goalie Judd Lambert, one of the cornerstones of the franchise since the beginning. Get ready to see lots of him. Coming off a 2000-01 campaign when he was plagued by an ankle injury and spent most of the year in the American Hockey League, Lambert has been asked to carry the bulk of the workload. Coach Jim Burton says 50 starts isn't out of the question, which suits Lambert just fine. That could be enough to make the Lynx serious contenders this season.
Kelly Cup, the East Coast Hockey League's ultimate piece of hardware. The trophy is named for Pat Kelly, one of the founding fathers of the ECHL who now holds the title of commissioner emeritus. Kelly is now director of hockey operations with the expansion Columbia Inferno, whom the Lynx will face eight times this season.
Larose, as in Guy (actually, it's pronounced Gee), who'll center the top line this season. Entering his 15th pro season, he is believed to have played more professional games (892) than anyone in the ECHL. Seventy of those games were in the NHL with Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary and Boston. His first two NHL goals came in one game against the greatest goalie of all time, Patrick Roy. And how's this for a hockey pedigree? His father, Claude, won nine Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. Lynx fans will love his aggressive, gritty style of play, too.
Mike Pierson, the new Lynx general manager, has been busy this off-season putting his signature on the franchise he took over when Paul Gamsby resigned in June. He has fresh ideas and a commitment to making the Lynx as fan-friendly as possible.
Northern Conference hockey is what the Lynx will play this season. Like the differences between the American League and National League in baseball, ECHL players will tell you that Southern Conference teams play more of a finesse game, while Northern Conference teams are more physical. The Lynx certainly will fit into the latter mold, which will suit them perfectly in the friendly confines of the civic center, where the ice surface is 15-feet shorter than regulation size. That results in less offensive flow and tighter checking, which in a nutshell, sums up the bigger, stronger and meaner Lynx in 2001-02.
Ontario Connection could be the unofficial moniker of the Augusta Lynx defense corps. Four of the club's seven blueliners hail from Canada's most populous province - Wes Swinson, John Whitwell, Trevor Gillies and Jim Baxter. Even though the departure of Alberta natives Louis Dumont, Dean Tiltgen and Lars Pettersen has spelled the demise of the Alberta Connection line in Augusta, Lynx fans have the Ontario Connection to which they can hitch their wagons.
Pataf, as in the one and only Brian Patafie, the three-time winner of the Funniest Trainer in the East Coast Hockey League Award. Since the beginning, Patafie has been a cornerstone of the Lynx organization, and his contributions to the team go beyond tending to the players' bumps and bruises. He is also responsible for equipment, housing and travel, and does a bang-up job making things run smoothly. Above all, his endless supply of wise cracks keeps the team loose and having fun which, after all, is what pro hockey is all about.
Quarterback, believe it or not, is one of the most important players in hockey. Every team needs a crafty QB (a defenseman who can handle the puck) to run the power play. Veteran David Wilkie - who has 86 games of NHL experience, including one with the New York Rangers last year - was signed specifically by Burton to fill that spot. Martin Lapointe and Jim Baxter also can do the job.
Radio is his game, Kyle "The Hammer" Schultz is his name, and Lynx fans are in for a treat this season. Schultz is the team's new broadcaster, as he replaces the popular Jerry Canaan, the original Voice of the Lynx who now is assistant GM with the Richmond Renegades. They say no one calls a hockey game quite like Schultz, the former voice of the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. His broadcasts exude energy and excitement. Buckle your seat belts, listeners. It's going to be a wild ride.
St. Louis, as in Josh, who begins his pro career with the Augusta Lynx. This youngster scored 57 goals and 108 points in his final year of junior with Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. Rumor has it he has lots of spirit and high arches. No truth to the rumor his favorite team are the Blues, Cardinals and Rams.
Travel will be much lighter for the Lynx in 2000-01, thanks to the addition of three new teams within 3 1/2 hours of Augusta - Columbia Inferno, Columbus Cottonmouths and Macon Whoopee. The Lynx will play more than 70 percent of their games against those three teams and three others that play less than three hours away - South Carolina (Charleston), Pee Dee (Florence, S.C.) and Greenville (S.C.).
Upgrades at the civic center will make Lynx games a more enjoyable experience this season, with the addition of luxury boxes and a host of additional renovations in the arena.
Victory is something that has happened 108 times in the history of Augusta Lynx hockey. That's 36 a year. Not bad, but certainly not the mark of a Kelly Cup champion. But this year will be different. The prediction? 46 victories. C'mon Burt. ... is that too much to ask?
Wes, as in Mason and Swinson, have a chance to be ECHL all-stars this season. Mason returns to the Lynx after winning the final International League championship with the Orlando Solar Bears last season, leading the team in playoff scoring. Swinson is coming off his finest season as a professional, adding an offensive element to an already physical game. The success of the Lynx in 2001-02 will be riding on the Weses.
X, as in ex-Lynx now working elsewhere this season, and there's plenty to go around. In the ECHL, Louis Dumont and Dean Tiltgen are in Pensacola; Lars Pettersen, GM Paul Gamsby and radio man Jerry Canaan are in Richmond; Ken Tasker and Dan Kopec are in Wheeling; Rob Bonneau and Chris Thompson are in Dayton. Jonas Soling is in Sweden. Sandy Lamarre is with Knoxville of the United League. Erasmo Saltarelli is in training camp with Springfield of the American League, Dorian Anneck is with Amarillo of the Central League. Paul Vincent is still looking for a team.
Yetman, as in Patrick, the rookie center from Newfoundland who took Augusta by storm for one game last season, then left. After Yetman tallied two assists in his pro debut with the Lynx last March, he signed the following day with Kansas City of the International League. The 20-year-old is back and could make a run at ECHL rookie of the year honors along with Josh St. Louis.
Zamboni, that magical machine that makes the ice smooth. In Augusta, the Zamboni Lady is Kellie Bulzcak, who has been driving the Zam at the civic center since Day 1. They say Kellie makes some of the best ice in the league. And you thought ice was ice, eh?