Originally created 03/19/03

Lynx 'Original Seven' say pride is on the line



The National Hockey League has the "Original Six" - a half-dozen teams that have been the cornerstones of the league since 1942.

In Augusta, the Lynx have the "Original Seven" - the last remaining players who were with the team on opening night, a close-knit group that has endured a tumultuous 2002-03 season.

For a team that's been a revolving door of players, the original seven - forwards Jim Shepherd, Ryan Lauzon, Josh St. Louis, Tyson Holly and Jeff Szwez, and defensemen Ryan Crane and Jay Leach - say pride is on the line with two weeks left in the season and a playoff spot still possible.

"I think it has been a difficult year for the organization, and I think we've got to pride ourselves that we even still have a chance," said Holly, as the Lynx begin their final playoff push tonight at home against the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.

"There's a sense of pride and dedication for the seven guys that have been here the whole year. A lot of teams would have folded and given up, but this team has shown a lot of character to still have a chance with seven games left."

The Lynx opened the season with a new NHL affiliation with the Phoenix Coyotes and an eye on returning to the East Coast Hockey League playoffs after falling one point short in 2001-02.

But after a 3-7-0 start, the troubled Lynx moved Jim Burton from the coach's office to the front office and named David Wilkie coach. A wave of moves followed. Augusta has made 72 player transactions and more than a dozen trades, using a total of 44 players, second-most in the league.

By the end of December, the Lynx were spiraling, stuck in the ECHL basement at 10-20-1. Their woes continued deep into February, when Wilkie assembled his current club through a series of signings and trades.

Around the league, the Lynx have been hailed as one of the ECHL's most improved clubs after acquiring the likes of forwards Chris Thompson, Andrew Ianiero and Vince Malts and defenseman Phil Roy at the trade deadline.

The question remains. Were all the promising moves too little, too late?

"We don't look at it that way at all," said Crane, a rookie who played briefly for Atlantic City at the end of last season. "Turns out we have a lot better team than we did at the start of the year, and we're winning some games now. There's seven of us left from the beginning, and it would be a great feeling to make the playoffs after all we've been through together."

Coincidentally, the number seven is important to the Lynx as they enter the home stretch. Including tonight, the Lynx have seven games left, and they are seven points behind Greenville for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Southeast Division.

"There's a bit of a bond between the seven of us," Holly said. "We talk about how we're glad for all we've been through together and how we've persevered."

For Wilkie, his wish for the Original Seven is that they can find a way to make the postseason and complete what would be a remarkable comeback.

"The guys that have been here all year long have been through a lot of ups and downs, and more downs than ups," Wilkie said. "They're pretty resilient. There's a lot of loyalty there from my standpoint for those seven guys. They stuck together through thick and thin. I'd love to see something good happen for them after all we've been through."