Originally created 05/25/05

Coach might be missing Lynx



Any convening of commonly bonded sports fans is a lot like the political kind - they come to hear what they want to hear.

Translating the promising rhetoric into results is another trick altogether.

Based on what the fans of the Augusta Lynx hockey club heard from their newest head coach Tuesday night, Bob Ferguson received a ringing endorsement.

"Everything he said sounded like what I want to see," said Sam Roney, a Lynx fan through the highs and the lows of the ECHL franchise's seven seasons in Augusta.

As minor league coaching introductions go, this was standard fare. Publicity man introduces general manager who introduces the new coach to a restaurant and bar filled with a blend of hockey fans and those just interested in a plate of hot wings and a beer.

The new coach always promises better things. The new coach always sets high goals. The new coach always sounds like the perfect antidote for whatever it is that went wrong enough to require bringing in a new coach in the first place.

But sometimes, the new coach - in this case an old coaching veteran - hits just the right chord and makes you believe that this new era has a legitimate chance of working out.

Ferguson struck that chord Tuesday night at Wild Wing Cafe. He took the message general manager Paul Gamsby said when they started this search by not resigning Stan Drulia after two losing seasons - "This is not acceptable" - and ran with it.

With the credentials and success to back it up, Ferguson promised to restore Augusta's reputation as a place no visiting hockey team wants to play. With that, he says, will come success and the atmosphere that comes with it.

"I want a team that opponents know is going to play hard every night," Ferguson said. "We're not going to be a freebie on anybody's schedule. Sometimes goal scoring goes into a slump. Sometimes defense goes into a slump.

"But there's no excuse for work ethic to go into a slump."

Safe to say the Lynx have been in a prolonged slump. Three years of winning hockey and playoff appearances has been replaced by three consecutive losing seasons and four straight without any postseason.

The lapse in success brought a quick decline in the gate that Gamsby and his staff are gradually building back. The GM believes hiring Ferguson is a great leap forward.

The two "old guys" like the old ways of doing things right. And there was a time beyond the last four years when the Lynx were pretty good at doing things right.

"We'll go back to the old formula and try that one," Gamsby said. "It seemed to work good for a few years."

Those old teams were larger, physical and relentless. Put that combination in one of the smaller, dingier rinks in the league, and it's a recipe for an intimidating reputation.

"We let them know that this was our home and you were not going to come in here and push us around," Gamsby said. "We could be down by two and it wasn't over. We'd tell you when it was over."

Ferguson remembers how tough it was to play in Augusta.

While he was coaching the Florida Everblades to the kind of record-breaking 1999-2000 season that most franchises dream of, Augusta had the final say.

Ferguson's Everblades came to the civic center ready to finish off the formality of a routine first-round series and were well on their way through two periods.

"You could tell by their body language that Augusta was ready to get the golf clubs out," Ferguson said.

Then a couple of Ferguson's players opened their mouths and expressed a sense of smug superiority that struck a nerve in the local crowd. The place lit up, the Lynx woke up and the Everblades gave up their championship hopes.

"I never heard a building so loud," Ferguson said. "And we never led again in that series."

That's the atmosphere Gamsby hopes Ferguson can bring back to Augusta.

"It's a mindset," Gamsby said. "We're not talking about just going (to the playoffs). We're talking about going deep."

And if Ferguson does it right, that standard won't ever disappear no matter who puts on the black and blue sweaters and takes the ice.

"The faces and the names will change," he said of his long-term goals, "but the personality and the character won't."

That's the kind of toughness Lynx fans wanted to hear - and see.

"This guy sounds like he can turn it around," said Roney, a believer with something to believe in at long last. "I'd like to see a winner sooner (rather) than later, and I think he's the guy that can do it."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.