Originally created 03/30/03

ECHL notebook







His disciples say they'd skate through a brick wall for him.

His detractors say his old-school discipline and kook show tactics are sideshows that do nothing but tarnish the East Coast Hockey League's image.

John Brophy is a coach you either love or hate. There is no middle ground.

His fiery temper and bizarre antics are legendary. Once, he dumped a player's equipment in the trash because he thought the player was "garbage."

He once made his players skate circles around him for 90 minutes as he sat in a chair at center ice and polished off a pot of coffee.

Several times over the years, he's picked fights with the opposing team and his own players alike.

Say what you will about the 71-year-old Brophy, but there's no denying he's been a winner. His 1,027 games as a professional coach are second only to Scotty Bowman. Brophy won three ECHL championships with the Hampton Roads Admirals and was named to the ECHL's 15th Anniversary Team.

Which is why missing the playoffs in his two seasons with the Wheeling Nailers was enough. Enough for the Nailers and the parent Pittsburgh Penguins to realize that maybe the abrasive Brophy's best days have passed him by.

Brophy "resigned" last week and will coach his final game with the Nailers today against Toledo at home. Will it be the final game of his career? That decision most likely will be his. Chances are, there's a team out there willing to hire him, baggage and all.

As abrasive and volatile as he can be on the ice, Brophy has been said to be charming off the ice. Lynx coach David Wilkie met him during a trip to Wheeling earlier this season, and he described Brophy as a "gentleman."

"He took the time to talk to me and (assistant coach John Whitwell), and seemed real interested in hearing about us," Wilkie said. 'You hear all the horror stories about him, but I was really impressed."

Brophy did not return a phone message seeking comment. The Nailers announced his resignation in a news release on Thursday and Brophy has not yet commented publicly on the move.

BEST OF THE COAST: Former Lynx defenseman Jim Baxter, now of the Mississippi Sea Wolves, was named to the All-ECHL first team on Thursday. Joining Baxter are defenseman Ryan Gaucher (Cincinnati), left winger Jason Jaffray (Roanoke), center Buddy Smith (Arkansas), right winger Steffon Walby (Mississippi) and goaltender Alfie Michaud (Peoria).

Jaffray, who leads all first-year players in scoring with 84 points, was named the league's Rookie of the Year on Saturday.

Second-team selections are: defensemen Jonathan Zion (Richmond) and Matt Pagnutti (Arkansas), left winger Shawn McNeil (Louisiana), center Rejean Stringer (Columbia), right winger Rick Kowalsky (Roanoke) and goaltender Patrick Couture (Columbia).

Stringer also captured the ECHL's sportsmanship award on Friday. The Inferno star is second in the league in scoring and had amassed just 16 penalty minutes through 70 games.

RACE TO THE WIRE: One of the most exciting division races in ECHL history finally started to make some sense Friday, with the Greensboro Generals and Roanoke Express clinching playoff berths to join the first-place Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies on the postseason invitation list.

Entering the final weekend, just three points separated second-place Greensboro from fifth-place Trenton. Unlike the Southern Conference, where five teams make the postseason from each division, only the top four teams in each Northern Conference division make the playoffs.

That leaves the Charlotte Checkers and Trenton Titans battling for the final spot. The Checkers, 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, can clinch the last spot with a win in the season-finale Saturday at Richmond. If the Checkers lose and Trenton beats Atlantic City on Saturday, the Titans are in.

But the division title is still on the line for Atlantic City, which can clinch the crown with one more win in its final two games or one Greensboro loss.

FRANCHISE UPDATE: Lynx minority owner and alternate governor Mark Vieira got the rumor mill churning at warp speed last week by stating that seven ECHL teams would not be playing next season.

Vieira didn't name names, but a few clubs made their intentions clearer last week.

In Baton Rouge, Kingfish owner Scotty Bolduc reportedly asked the ECHL permission to suspend operations next year, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. The team earlier set a goal to sell 4,000 season tickets to bring the team back next season. Through Thursday, only 160 season-ticket deposits were made.

The Kingfish, who averaged 6,003 fans per game in 1996-97, are last in the league with an average of 1,678 this season.

In Columbus, Cottonmouths owners - for the second time in three weeks - said the team was in dire straits financially and might ask the league to suspend operations or perhaps join the Atlantic Coast Hockey League next season.

Lexington Men O'War general manager Tim Woodburn painted a rosier picture for the future of that franchise, telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that the chances of the team, returning to Rupp Arena next season were "Superb. ... Not fair. Not poor. Not maybe. Excellent."

Judgment day for these and other teams said to be in trouble arrives Tuesday. The ECHL's deadline for clubs to declare their intentions for next season is April 1.

ONE-TIMERS: Three days after Florida Everblades general manager Craig Brush said his club couldn't beat a "girl's team" in the wake of a 5-2 loss to Charlotte, the Blades ended a five-game winless skid with a 3-1 win over Southern Conference champion Columbia on Friday. Brush criticized the players for a lack of focus of late. "They're thinking about going out and having a good time," Brush said in the Naples Daily News. "I know for a fact there was a bunch of guys partying in South Carolina. ... I've never been so disappointed in a group of guys in my life." ... Hated with a passion by Lynx fans the past two years, Cottonmouths captain Jerome Bechard announced his retirement. His last home game was Saturday night, when the team honored him for seven seasons in Columbus by retiring his No. 16 jersey. ... Baton Rouge finally brought to an end its scoreless streak of 320:09 with a goal in a 4-1 loss to Mississippi on Tuesday. Their scoreless streak lasted four-plus games.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425