On September 4, 1997, the Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority voted to spend nearly $1 Million dollars to install an ice floor in the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. This paved the way for professional hockey to come to Augusta. Majority owner George Gillespie purchased the Raleigh Ice Caps franchise at the conclusion of the 1996-97 season after the NHL announced the Hartford Whalers would re-locate to North Carolina as the Hurricanes. The Augusta Lynx name and logo were announced on February 26, 1998. Affiliation agreements were established with the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks of the NHL. Paul Gamsby was named General Manager and Dan Wiebe was retained from Raleigh as the Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations.
The Augusta Lynx opened their first season with a 9-5 win over the Jacksonville Lizard Kings in front of a crowd of 7,151 at the Augusta Richmond County Civic Center. With a 38-27-5 record, the Lynx made the playoffs in their inaugural season but lost in the first round to Baton Rouge. Attendance averaged 5,443 per game, exceeding management’s expectations and placing the Lynx ninth in the 27 team league.
The Lynx would make it to the third round of the ECHL playoffs in their second season under Wiebe, their best post-season performance. Average attendance fell to 4,767, a trend that unfortunately would continue throughout the team’s history.
Scott MacPherson replaced Wiebe for the 2000-01 season, but after a 14-16-3 start, former Arkansas Glacier Cats coach Jim Burton took the helm. After finishing the season 22-13-4, the Lynx qualified for the playoffs for their third consecutive season, only to lose to the New Orleans Brass in round one.
The 2002-03 season brought in Pete Budwick of the Augusta Ice Sports Center as the first local minority owner. Within a year, the team would be sold to a local ownership group led by Frank Lawrence, the owner of the Bobby Jones Ford dealership, and William Morris III, CEO of Morris Communications and the Augusta Chronicle. The 2003-04 season would also bring the number of teams in the ECHL to the all-time high of 31, including the new in-state rival Gwinnett Gladiators.
By the end of the 2004-05 season, the Lynx had failed to reach the playoffs four consecutive seasons under the leadership of head coaches Jim Burton, David Wilkie and Stan Drulia. Average attendance had dropped to just over 3,000 per game.
Bob Ferguson held the title of head coach for three seasons beginning in 2005-06 with the team reaching the playoffs each year but never advancing beyond the first round. On April 20, 2006, the Lynx were sold once again, this time to a local consortium known as the Group Operating the Augusta Lynx (GOAL). Led by local businessman Dan Troutman, team management and fans were hopeful that Troutman, a Lynx season ticket holder since 1998, could turn the franchise around financially, much the same way that Cal Ripken, Jr. did for the city’s Class A minor league baseball team.
On August 22, 2006, the team’s home arena was renamed the James Brown Arena, in honor of local musician James Brown. But having the Godfather of Soul's name on the arena nor his death four months later had no affect on attendance, which had declined to under 3,000 per game for four seasons in a row. The increase in crime and the arena’s location in the heart of downtown Augusta undoubtedly played a part in keeping fans away. The outdated design and the amount of debt service still remaining on the current arena effectively hampered team efforts to make the arena more fan friendly and competitive with facilities in areas such as Columbia, Greenville and Gwinnett. Talk of building a newer facility in the Augusta suburbs died due to a lack of public money or private investors willing to invest in such a proposition. At a press conference on December 2, 2008, the team announced it was suspending operations. All but one of the players were dispersed to other teams in the AHL, ECHL, IHL and CHL.
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