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Financially strapped Lynx forced to fold

Friday, 12.05.2008 / 10:06 AM / ECHL Report

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"It's a big loss for Augusta. The people that work part-time in the building, a lot of those people depend on that secondary income. It's going to affect a ton of people."
-- John Marks

It's almost as if a rain cloud hovers over the head of John Marks wherever he goes.

The ECHL's all-time winningest coach once again is unemployed, as the Augusta Lynx suspended operations this week after ownership announced it was financially strapped.

For Marks, this is third time in four years he has found himself in such a situation, although Augusta is the first team in league history to suspend operations in the middle of a season. Marks guided the Greenville Grrrowl to 45 wins in 2005-06, only to see the team fold at the conclusion of that campaign. The Pensacola Ice Pilots, whom Marks coached last season, closed their doors last April.

While some of his players already have found new teams, Marks is out of a job. More importantly, he's out of a paycheck. It's a situation nobody ever wants to be in, especially during the holiday season.

"I don't want to make it sound like sour grapes because it's happened to me again and again and again," Marks told NHL.com. "It's going to happen to some other coaches down the road. I said it during a conference call that we had with all the coaches at the start of the season -- the players have a union and they're getting taken care of. The coaches have nothing. You have nothing. If a team files for bankruptcy, line up with the creditors. I thought I had a guaranteed contract last year (in Pensacola) to take care of that situation."

News of Augusta's demise began to unfold last week, when the Charlotte Observer briefly reported on its Web site that the Charlotte Checkers' games against the Lynx last weekend were canceled due to the latter's folding. Those games were played, but the report forced ownership to admit that the franchise was in trouble. Less than two weeks later, the Lynx are no more.

Marks said he wasn't aware of any financial hardship until just a few weeks ago. The Lynx were supposed to visit the Mississippi Sea Wolves on Thursday night.

"Maybe three weeks before it happened," Marks said. "They said things were a little tight. It was kind of getting down to the 11th hour, and we played this weekend. We were told we were still going to go to Mississippi, and Tuesday night was when everything came down."

Even the players were out of the loop until recently.

"Guys were hearing it on other teams before we even had a clue," said second-year pro Matt Auffrey, who led the Lynx with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 18 games. "It was kind of weird. It went back-and-forth that we were going to stay a team and then we were going to fold. We didn't know what to believe for a while, so we just kind of tried to ignore it and play. It's kind of hard to concentrate on what you're doing if you're not going to be with that team two days later. It was a little bit wild there."

Auffrey is one of the players able to find a new home, as he's set to join the Florida Everblades. But his coaches -- Marks and assistant Dane Litke -- as well as Augusta's entire front office staff, all are out of work.

"It's unfortunate," Auffrey said. "Everyone thinks about the players, but while we get picked up by other teams, they're screwed out of a job. It's especially unfortunate for those guys. I hope everyone -- the staff included -- finds work."

For Marks, the timing couldn't be worse. Only a few teams in the league are struggling at this stage of the season, and there are no reports of any coaches on the verge of being replaced. Marks was asked where he thinks he'll land next.

"You tell me," he responded. "Is there a Web site that's looking for professional coaches? It's a bad time of the year, not just because it's Christmas. No one's making any coaching changes to speak of. If there's somebody who's making a coaching change, then I would hope that they would consider or know that Augusta has folded and they'd consider me or my assistant as a possible replacement. I don't know how many teams are thinking about making coaching changes."

Although Marks wasn't aware of Augusta's possible demise until only recently, the 60-year-old said he's not upset with ownership for folding the Lynx two months into the season.
"It was kind of weird. It went back-and-forth that we were going to stay a team and then we were going to fold. We didn't know what to believe for a while, so we just kind of tried to ignore it and play. It's kind of hard to concentrate on what you're doing if you're not going to be with that team two days later." -- Matt Auffrey
"I'm not angry ... who do you get angry at?" he said. "The people that owned the team, I know they feel bad. They're in tears. At the press conferences, right on camera they're crying. They're disappointed, and I know a lot of fans are and the community is. It's a big loss for Augusta. The people that work part-time in the building, a lot of those people depend on that secondary income. It's going to affect a ton of people."

During the past four seasons, though, one could make a strong case that not a single person in the entire hockey world has been hit harder by such situations than Marks, who for whatever reason has not coached at the Triple-A level in 15 years. The Lynx were 6-10-2 before suspending operations. Those six wins give Marks 491 in his ECHL career.

"Third time in four years," Marks said. "We came off a 93-point season in Greenville, and it folded. Obviously, I took over (a bad situation) in Pensacola. The second half of the season was better and we competed harder and I think we were a game under .500. I had to get rid of a lot of players that didn't belong. The unfortunate part about this job was getting hired Aug. 1. It doesn't give you a lot of time to put a team together. A lot of players had already signed contracts. We were going to get better, but the economy is what killed the team."
   
Around the ECHL -- Alaska goalie J.P. Lamoreux was named the CCM Vector ECHL Rookie of the Month for November. The 24-year-old went 8-2-1 with a shutout, 1.90 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. The Aces currently lead the West Division and the National Conference. ... Kyle Wharton of the Johnstown Chiefs was named the PaySourceUSA ECHL Plus Performer of the Month for November after leading the league with a plus-13 rating. Wharton was a second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2004. ... Ontario Reign rookie John Murray was the Rbk Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Week for Nov. 24-30. The 21-year-old went 3-0-0 with a 1.62 GAA in three starts. ... The Bakersfield Condors acquired center Brett Pilkington from the Trenton Devils in exchange for future considerations. The Condors also signed rookie forward Nick Pernula. ... Stockton Thunder forward Ryan Huddy was recalled by Springfield of the American Hockey League. Ryan is the son of Edmonton Oilers assistant coach Charlie Huddy. ... Jacob Micflikier of the Florida Everblades was the In Glas Co ECHL Player of the Week for Nov. 24-30. He had two game-winning goals and 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) to help Florida go 3-1-0 and improve to 9-1-0 in their last 10 games.

Contact Brian Compton at bcompton@nhl.com.


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