Tampa affiliate Augusta Lynx fights for survival

By Holly Gunning

The ECHL Augusta Lynx made it publicly known at a press conference on Friday that they require an injection of capital immediately to avoid folding the team mid-season, something that has never happened in the history of the league.

The Lynx have been in Augusta since 1998-99.  They are in the first year of affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning, following several years with the Anaheim Ducks.  Three Tampa prospects are currently on the roster: Riku Helenius, Chris Lawrence, and Kevin QuickJustin Keller spent time with the team earlier in the year.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Lynx coach John Marks, a 10-year NHL veteran and the longest-serving coach in ECHL history, following what could potentially have been the Lynx’ final home game.  Marks segued from talking about Tampa Bay prospects into discussing the broader situation.  We begin at that point.

"We pass the puck too soon, we pass it right onto the guy’s stick — it’s poise and confidence.  We’re so fragile.  When you’re at the state we’re in right now — are we playing or not playing, what are we playing for, am I going to be here or going somewhere else, am I going to be picked up if I’m a free agent, am I heading home, do I have a paycheck?  We always seem to start off pretty good and then get a penalty, get another penalty. 

How long have the players known how precarious the situation is?

"A couple weeks now.  We’ve lost seven games in a row now like that and scored five or six goals in the last seven games.  It’s desire. 

Does the losing streak coincide with when you told them that the situation was bad?

"Kind of.  But all the rumors were flying around.  Players from other teams called my guys. Probably their coach is saying ‘hey, you know so and so from Augusta? give him a call and see if he’s interested in coming.’  And then I find out that the PHPA [Professional Hockey Players Association] blew the whistle.  They had meetings with all the teams recently, about a week and a half ago they were in here at 8:00 in the morning talking.  They also talked about that Augusta was on shaky ground. 

"The thing is, this organization isn’t in a position where they are going to lose a lot of money.  But right now, with the economy what it is, the cash flow is not right there.  As [co-owner] Dan Troutman said, we had a perfect storm take place about a month ago, involving a large sum of money that was previously sold to different corporations that are having a tough time financially.  Suddenly that money’s not there and there’s a lack of cash flow.  I know when the ownership took over here they took a pretty good hit the first year, they cut it in half the second year, and they were on track with the summer sales and everything else.  We had the third largest percentage gain of all the teams in revenue over the summer. Some tickets, some corporate.  That’s a pretty good percentage.  And then the perfect storm, all of a sudden, boom.  If the owners of teams are in businesses that are getting hit the hardest by our economy, then the owners are also getting tapped.  Their emergency funds are suddenly not there.

"I’ve never had to coach in this situation. It’s lame duck almost.  It’s not just the players, it’s the office staff. I was going to go home for Christmas for three days, but I’m wondering am I going home for Christmas for the rest of the season?  I don’t want to sound selfish but I’m 60 years old and all I’ve done is coach hockey for the last 26 years.  I’m not complaining about it because it’s been a great life, I’ve done OK, but you don’t make enough money at this level to be able to retire at 60 years old.  And I’m too old to play (laughs).

"I’m hoping and praying that something takes place.  We had some good news this afternoon.  Dan Troutman talked to me before the game with some good news and we’ll see what transpires from this news.  There was an investor who was here at the game, unfortunately we lost 6-2, but hopefully he enjoyed it a little bit.  Then there’s a couple other out of town groups he’s been talking to that seem interested, so we’ll see. They’re looking for about $200,000.

"When Greenville (SC) folded, youth hockey about folded.  It’s gone to about nothing. So you’re affecting the youth hockey, the families.  It’s another trickle-down affect, a domino effect."