Originally created 12/14/01

Center of attention



The new guy was talking to a reporter when Augusta Lynx coach Jim Burton came walking by, grinning from ear to ear.

"I told you I'd get this guy," Burton said matter-of-factly. "It might have taken me three years, but I got him."

Jeff Bes has been on Burton's wish list since his days as coach of the Arkansas GlacierCats of the Western Pro League. His wish came true just in time for Christmas, with the Lynx executing the biggest trade in club history Tuesday, acquiring the high-scoring center from Mississippi.

"It's not every day you can pick up a 100-point scorer in this league," Burton said. "I'm excited about getting him. Our hockey club is much better now than it was on Monday."

The 28-year-old veteran practiced for the first time with his new club on Thursday and makes his Augusta debut tonight when the Lynx try to end a seven-game winless streak at home against the Greensboro Generals.

Bes will center the top line between wingers Scott Morrow and Wes Mason, and brings instant credibility to a team that best classifies as underachieving through the first 26 games of the season.

"There's a lot of leadership in the dressing room with a lot of quality vets and some good, young players with a lot of skill level and enthusiasm," said Bes, who finished second in the ECHL in scoring last season with 100 points on 35 goals and 65 assists. "They're in a bit of a downward spiral now, but maybe this is the trade we need to turn it around and get it going."

The Jackson Bandits were in a similar funk last season when they acquired Bes from the Pensacola Ice Pilots in February. In 20 games with the Bandits, Bes scored 11 goals and 32 points. The team won 19 of their final 23 games to clinch a playoff berth.

"Whenever you make a trade, it rattles the team a bit, but the player we got is a tremendous, tremendous asset offensively," said Morrow, who finished sixth in the ECHL in scoring last season. "Hopefully it will kick-start us a bit. The one thing it gives us is two really good lines. We don't have to rely on just one line for scoring punch now, and that should even things out a bit and take some pressure off guys."

While Morrow and Mason have put up good numbers, Burton is hoping they can put up big numbers with the creative Bes making things happen.

"He's a puckhandler, and he's crafty, plus he's a great shooter," Burton said of Bes. "I want him to keep shooting, and I want Mo (Morrow) and Mason to know that, if he floats (a pass), it usually means it's time for them to pull the trigger. What Bes does is, he draws defenders to him. When that happens, and he dishes it up to them, they've got to get it in the net, and I'm hoping that's what will happen lots."

Bes seems more than willing to oblige. He said he clicked immediately with Morrow and Mason in practice Thursday and is excited about the possibilities.

"Those are two guys who've played at a higher level and have been very productive in this league," Bes said. "There was chemistry there right away. It's going to take more time to fine-tune things. But it's going to be fun playing with experienced guys like that."

He said he also looks forward to playing in front of friendly fans in Augusta for the first time.

With Pensacola, Bes came to Augusta on Jan. 12 and was on the losing end of Burton's first victory as Lynx coach. The following night, he tallied a goal and four assists in a 6-3 Ice Pilots victory.

"The fan support here is great; they're constantly screaming at the visitors, and I remember how tough it was as an opposing player coming in here," said Bes, who hails from Tillonsburg, Ontario, Canada - about 30 miles from Burton's hometown of Brantford.

"That's what you want. It's a loud building, and the fans are almost like a sixth attacker out here. I'm really excited about playing here."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.