January typically is moving month in the ECHL.
For both the contenders hoping to add the final piece of the puzzle, and the pretenders looking for a player to jump-start their second half, the start of a new year is always a busy time for trades, waiver claims and teams luring North Americans back from Europe.
Which begs the question: What, if anything, is in store for the Augusta Lynx?
Lynx coach Jim Burton already pulled off one of the biggest trades in the league this season, picking up high-scoring center Jeff Bes from Mississippi. But Burton makes no secret about his desire to land at least one more skilled forward.
"We're actively looking," Burton said. "There are some guys in Europe we've been talking to who might be coming back."
Burton has targeted a handful of players, including 25-year-old center Mike Williams, a junior teammate of goalie Zac Bierk's who began the season in Sweden.
Williams left Sweden in December and was believed to be close to coming to Augusta, but a lower-back injury he suffered earlier this season put contract talks on hold.
Another player Burton has pursued is former Peoria winger Blaine Fitzpatrick, who retired in October after the Rivermen traded him to Atlantic City. A teammate of Lynx winger Tyler Willis' in Peoria, Fitzpatrick is both skilled and physical. He scored 31 goals and racked up 231 penalty minutes in 61 games with Peoria two years ago.
Fitzpatrick was declared a free agent by the league in late November after his 45-day league suspension for not reporting to Atlantic City expired.
"I've tried, but he doesn't seem to want to play," Burton said. "He told me he planned to stay retired."
Burton would not disclose the names of other players in negotiations.
"I don't want the other teams to find out who we're talking to," he said.
In scouring European rosters for prospective players, Burton admits there is one player who tops his list.
"Would I love to have Jonas Soling back?" Burton said. "Absolutely."
Soling, a two-time ECHL All-Star with the Lynx who led the team with 41 goals last season, is with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. Soling missed the early part of the season with a knee injury but recently returned to the ice. Burton, however, says Soling has no plans of coming back to the ECHL this season.
"We've talked to him," Burton said. "I don't think he'll come back this year. Next year, though, who knows?"
YEAR ONE DONE: Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary for Burton as Lynx coach. His record since replacing Scott MacPherson Jan. 8, 2001, is 39-29-10, including Friday's win over Greensboro.
Though Burton says he wishes the results were better, the 40-year-old coach said he is as confident as ever that the best is yet to come.
"I certainly wish we were in a better position than we are right now, but we're not too far from where we want to be," said Burton, whose Lynx entered Saturday's game seventh in the eight-team Southeast Division at 17-16-6.
Reflecting on his first year in Augusta, Burton says the high point was the team's second-half run and playoff appearance last season.
The low point?
"The losing streak this year was tough, but I'd have to say that goal that Martin Bartek scored against us in that mini-game was the most disappointing moment for me as a coach," said Burton, referring to Augusta's season-ending loss to the New Orleans Brass in Game 3 of the Southern Conference wild-card playoffs.
LITTLE ROSIE: Veteran Lynx center Guy Larose is soon to be a first-time dad. Larose's wife, Jennifer, is expecting the couple's first child in August.
"We found out just before Christmas, so that was a nice Christmas present," Larose said.
At 34, is Larose ready to be a father?
"I don't know; is anyone ready?" he said. "I have some nieces and nephews, and have been around kids a lot, but I know it's going to be different now that it's your own."
GOING MOBILE: With the chance to acquire a player Jan. 1 from Mobile to complete the trade that sent Jessie Rezansoff to the Mysticks in December, Burton decided to pass for now and exercised his option to take two players from Mobile at the end of the season.
"I didn't think the player that was agreed upon was a good fit for the hockey club right now, so we're going to get two pretty good players from them after the season," Burton said.
Burton said he and Mobile coach Jeff Pyle have agreed on the two players that will be dealt to Augusta, but will not name them until the end of the season.
The player initially offered by Mobile as the future consideration is believed to be rookie forward Brett Mills, who has seven goals and 15 points in 31 games with the Mysticks this season.
WHIT'S WELL: When defenseman John Whitwell collapsed because of pain in his left knee during the first period of a 5-2 loss at Columbia on Dec. 22, he was expecting the worst.
After all, it had been less than seven months since he had reconstructive surgery to repair ligaments in the knee.
But Whitwell missed only two games.
"He manages his injuries well and takes good care of himself," trainer Brian Patafie said. "You can't say that for a lot of guys. He's a pro."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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