A pair of banners on display at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center eloquently summed up the 2002-03 season for the Augusta Lynx.
On one end of the ice, one sign read "THANKS LYNX SURVIVORS - This was not your normal hockey season."
And on the other end, the banner draped above the tunnel leading to the dressing room read "Sometimes you play the game. Sometimes the game plays you. Thanks guys! We know you tried hard."
Tried hard they did for 72 games over the course of a chaotic and sometimes dismal six months. In the end, the Lynx fell short of their ultimate goal to make the ECHL playoffs.
At least they went out in style.
Defenseman Martin Lapointe beat Pee Dee goaltender Rob Anderson for the final goal of the season with 47 seconds left in overtime, closing the Lynx's fifth season in Augusta with a 4-3 victory.
Less than 18 hours after their playoff hopes crashed in a 7-3 loss to Greenville on Saturday night, the Lynx gave their fans one last hurrah despite missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
"It has been a long year and a lot of stuff went on here that a lot of the fans don't see," Lapointe said. "We went through a lot of adversity, and for us to finish this was is great. Obviously, we wanted to make the playoffs, but you couldn't have asked for a better ending today. The fans deserved it and we deserved it, as well."
Playing with just 13 skaters - three short of the league minimum - the Lynx closed out the season with a gutsy victory over the third-place Pride (41-26-5), who open the playoffs Wednesday at South Carolina.
Along with Lapointe's game-winner, Jeff Szwez scored and Andrew Williamson tallied two, giving him 31 for the season. For the Lynx captain, he became the ninth player in ECHL history to score at least 30 goals in a season five times.
"It was a nice way to finish," said Williamson, who began the day 12th in the league in scoring and could crack the top 10 after a four-point finale. "The coaching staff was unbelievable and the guys on the team here were great. The team went through tough times and a lot of different changes, but I think there's a lot to look forward to."
Afterward, the Lynx players took the ice for one last ovation and one final salute to the crowd, then returned to the ice about an hour later and joined more than 200 fans for a post-game skate.
Wilkie, who skated with his wife, Jackie, and their three children, also paid one final tribute to his players.
"There were a lot of distractions on and off the ice, and I've never seen anything like it," Wilkie said. "But I'm proud of the way these guys fought to the end. This isn't a perfect world. Hopefully, next year, we can right the ship."
Lynx 4, Pride 3, overtime
Star of the game: Defenseman Martin Lapointe scored the game-winning goal with 47 seconds left in 4-on-4 overtime.
Plus: Debbie Linton of the Lynx booster club, the woman behind the personalized banners at Augusta games the past five seasons, filled the arena with more than a dozen signs thanking the fans, booster club, Lynx players and staff for their efforts.
Plus: Captain Andrew Williamson scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season, his fifth ECHL season with at least 30 goals.
Plus: After the game, the Lynx players and coaches skated with the fans for about an hour.
Lynx final record: 27-39-6
Up next: Opening night 2003-04, TBA.
Pee Dee Pride/1 /2 /0 /0-/4
Augusta Lynx/1 /2 /0 /1-/3
First period: 1-Pee Dee, Naud (Mizzi, Carriere), :33. 2-Augusta, Szwez (Holly, Williamson), 6:01. Penalties-None.
Second period: 3-Pee Dee, Schmidt (Halldorson, Goldie), 11:46. 4-Augusta, Williamson (Murphy, Ianiero), 14:56. 5-Augusta, Williamson (Legg, Holly), 15:37. 6-Pee Dee, Sirois (Naud, Mizzi), 15:53. Penalties-None.
Third period: No scoring. Penalties-None.
Overtime: 7-Augusta, Lapointe (Crane, Williamson), 4:13. Penalties-None.
Shots on goal: Pee Dee 15-12-8-5-40. Augusta 16-16-9-3-44. Power-play opportunities: Pee Dee 0 of 0, Augusta 0 of 0. Goaltenders: Pee Dee-Anderson (44 shots-40 saves; L,0-0-1), Augusta-Cruickshank (40-37; W,8-8-1) Referee: Shawn Davis. Linesmen: John O'Brien, Craig Kneale. A: 3,371.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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