Originally created 11/26/03

Team believes they can win

No one in the Augusta Lynx front office is placing an order for Kelly Cup Finals tickets yet.

But for the first time in a long time, there is reason to believe the Lynx are a legitimate ECHL playoff contender.

"The big thing is confidence and believing in our systems," defenseman Wes Swinson said. "Now that we're on a streak here, the boys are confident and having fun and showing commitment to the team concept."

With road victories Friday and Saturday over Central Division rivals Texas and Louisiana, the Lynx ran their winning streak to four games and their unbeaten streak to five - their longest since winning six straight in 2000-01.

After a slow start, Augusta is over the .500 mark at 6-5-1 under first-year coach Stan Drulia and his defense-first philosophy.

"They're starting to believe in each other and trusting in their ability," said Drulia, who won a championship as a rookie coach with Orlando of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League last season. "They're buying into what I'm telling them and they realize that the little things make big a difference. By no means are we a championship team. We have a lot of improvement to make. But we've put ourselves in a position to earn a playoff spot."

Postseason talk is something the Lynx haven't heard in a while. They've missed the playoffs the past two seasons and barely made it in 2000-01. The Tallahassee Tiger Sharks were docked 25 points in the standings for salary-cap violations, allowing the Lynx to slip in to the last playoff spot in the division.

Defenseman Martin Lapointe - who along with Swinson and Ken Tasker were members of the last Lynx playoff team under coach Jim Burton - agrees Drulia's constant preaching about team defense and paying attention to detail has made a world of difference.

"At first, we knew it was going to take a little time for everybody to learn the system and really believe in it," Lapointe said. "But the guys are starting to buy into it. Everybody has a job to do and Stan holds everyone accountable."

The biggest difference for the Lynx has been the play of goalie Jason Saal, who is 10th in the league with a 2.30 goals-against average and was named ECHL Saver of the Week on Tuesday.

"A lot of credit goes to Stan and (assistant coach Chuck Weber) for finding the right system for this team," Swinson said. "But Saal has been unbelievable for us. I wish the fans in Augusta could have seen the quality goaltending on the road. He was phenomenal. He's been the difference."

Said Drulia: "Everything we've worked on is starting to come to fruition now, but we still have a long ways to go. Luckily, Saal has been the difference most nights. We're a young team and we're learning, and that's what we need out of our goaltending."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.


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