Originally created 11/05/04

Busiest stretch of games starts long way from home



The Augusta Lynx's season picks up the pace this weekend.

The Lynx (1-2) have played only two games since fans welcomed the new players at their season opener Oct. 22 at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. Augusta will match its season total for games in three days beginning tonight in Beaumont, Texas.

"I think some guys are champing at the bit to get going," forward Louis Goulet said. "I think some teams have played six-seven games already, so it's tough to just play three."

The Lynx begin a stretch of five games in nine days tonight when they play the Texas Wildcatters at 8:05 p.m. After a double-dip in Texas, the Lynx return to their sleeper bus for a ride to Pensacola, Fla., to play the Ice Pilots at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. Augusta returns to play at home Nov. 12-13.

This weekend marks the Lynx's first big road trip of the season. It also represents the longest bus ride (850 miles to Beaumont), which the Lynx will make twice this season.

There are seven teams in the ECHL that are farther away from Augusta than the Wildcatters, but all are in the National Conference.

The Lynx and the Columbia (S.C.) Inferno, both in the American Conference, are the only two teams who do not play teams in the opposite conference this season.

Rod Pasma, ECHL vice president of hockey operations, said the league tries to limit teams' difficult road trips to two or three a season. Two trips to Beaumont this year got the Lynx out of playing the North Division this year.

When the East Coast Hockey League absorbed the West Coast Hockey League in 2003, Pasma said ECHL teams were given the choice of whether they wanted to make a west-coast trip. Augusta opted out, which keeps the Lynx from playing the West Division through at least next year.

That means the Lynx will get very familiar with the 11 other teams in their conference. With the new conference alignment and playoff scenario that gives the American Conference's postseason berths to the division winners and the next six teams overall, every Lynx game is a four-point game in the postseason picture.

Augusta plays Gwinnett the most this year (10 times) and has already gotten two of those games out of the way (the Lynx are 1-1). Augusta plays Pensacola eight times; Florida, Columbia, South Carolina and Pee Dee seven times; Texas, Charlotte and Greenville six times and Louisiana and Mississippi four times.

"You're going to create a lot more rivalries and I think that's what the league was trying to do," Lynx coach Stan Drulia said. "We've got a pretty good one with Columbia, we had a great one with Columbus last year and I think it's only going to be inspired playing Gwinnett (10) times. Those games are very, very hard.

"It's going to create a little bit more intensity, hopefully, every night."

That will almost certainly be evident toward the end of the season if the Lynx are in the playoff hunt.

When Augusta still held a sliver of hope at the playoffs last season - 11 of their past 17 games were against non-conference opponents - making it tough for Augusta to gain any ground in their division.

General manager Paul Gamsby said 66 percent of the Lynx's games last year were scheduled against non-conference foes, which he found unacceptable when he came on board just before the season started in 2003.

"Live or die by the sword is my attitude," Gamsby said. "You want to play the opponents you have to catch."

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or kristy.shonka@augustachronicle.com.