AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – It’s been around nine years since Augusta had a hockey team, but the good memories remain in fans’ hearts.
“I was fortunate enough to play in game number one of hockey history here in Augusta with the Lynx back in 1998 and we had a completely sold out arena and it was fantastic,” said John Whitwell, a former Defenseman for the Augusta Lynx.
“The excitement when the theme song they would come out to would start up, the team would come out, I can still remember it. It was just great, we loved it. It was probably the most fun thing we ever did, ever living here, as a thing to do in Augusta,” said Tracy Cook, a long time fan of the Lynx.
“It was incredible. The one thing about the old Civic Center, now the James Brown Arena, is the fans are right on top of you and it was sold out. I think I probably had a fight the first game, because I did a lot of that, and it’s just a real passionate crowd. Definitely during the anthem makes the hairs on your body stand up and it’s just an incredible game with an incredible fan base,” said Trevor Gillies, a former Defenseman for the Augusta Lynx.
“You get that rush of cool air, you sense the excitement from all the fans, it’s such a unique sport that’s not as popular in this area as other things like baseball and golf. When you walk out there and you just sense that excitement. Some times you see a fight but mostly you see the game itself and it’s just exciting, you never know whats going to happen,” said Natalie Pirkle, a fan of the Lynx.
“It was intense. It was easy to get up for a game. The booster club was fantastic. They tailgated before the game, community was really behind us and it was a great experience,” said Steve Munn, a former Defenseman for the Augusta Lynx.
“It was crazy. They would have a bunch of sellouts when we would go to the games. It was cold in the stadium. It was fast action. To me, it’s the fastest sport in the United States. It never stops. The fights, the goals would be scored, the music, we had a good time going to all the games. We love going to the hockey games, I miss the Augusta Lynx,” said Ivan Bolgla, a fan of the Lynx.
Recently, three former Augusta Lynx players were guests on the DropTheDis podcast. Once it was posted to social media, fans joined in on the conversation, sharing their favorite stories.
NewsChannel 6 tracked down the former players and fans to see why people are still talking about hockey and have them share some of the memories that have stayed with them all of this time.
“From day one, the fans were behind the team like nothing I’ve ever seen before. After the games we’d go in to the restaurants and we’d literally have standing ovations when we walked in. It was unbelievable. We just had an absolute blast playing in front of all the fans here in Augusta,” said Whitwell.
Do you have a memory that sticks out from going to one of these games?
“I do. The best memory, besides catching a puck, was sometime after September 11th, 2001. The Lynx team brought in Lee Greenwood and he sang ‘God Bless The USA’ and we were crying…in tears…the place was packed, they were screaming after he sang the song. It was just an awesome experience. I can still see him in the middle of the rink singing that song,” said Bolgla.
The fans – would you say you were having a good time?
“Oh yeah, it was a rowdy crowd if there ever was one. I used to do the national anthem there. I was a much younger guy at that point and that was a very daunting task, but it was really fun to see a couple thousand people really appreciate what you were doing,” said Will McCranie, a fan of the Lynx.
Do you have any memorabilia from back in the day?
“I do! I have a hockey stick that was autographed by the final lineup of the team. They would go on the ice and meet the team and I happened to get a stick because we lucked up and won the throwing a puck to win the money and my wife hit it right in the center. We got two jerseys, or as hockey calls them sweaters, and I got a hockey stick that they all autographed for me,” said Cook.
“Me and my buddy Jason one time we won tickets to see the Thrashers because he was really good at Augusta Lynx hockey and trivia and so he won a trivia contest and we got to go to Atlanta and see the Thrashers. It was always fun. It seemed like one thing would just lead to the next and I’d love to see it come back to Augusta,” said McCranie.
Now, let’s rewind. You caught a puck with your hand?
“Caught the puck in my hand and we had a seat near the ice and it got flipped up in the air and I stuck my left hand out and how I caught it, I don’t know how, but I caught it and I brought it home, got it signed, and I’ve caught a bunch of baseballs, but this is the first and only puck I ever caught,” said Bolgla.
How did it make you feel to see all these people come on to social media and celebrate hockey?
“It was really great to see. Honestly, I’m not surprised because just from being in the community, people are excited about hockey. When people pick up my accent and they find out I’m from Canada and find out hockey was the reason I was brought down here…people love to talk hockey down here. They either wish we had the team back, they wish we had a team…and so I’m not surprised with traction that the podcast has generated on social media,” said Munn.
Even though it’s been years since hockey was in Augusta, the fans and the players remember it like it was yesterday. For the former Augusta Lynx players, they loved Augusta so much they decided to stay and make it their home.
“You can’t beat it. Great weather, great people, and I just fell in love with the city. I like to fish and golf and there are just such great people, I decided to make it my forever home,” said Gillies.
And for the fans, there’s always that hope that one day hockey comes back.
“Everybody misses it, there’s a void,” said Pirkle.
“We talk about it all the time, wishing that the Lynx could come back or just having any kind of hockey team around here,” said Cook.
“Thank you for the memories. Go, Lynx! It was some of the greatest sporting events in Augusta history,” said Bolgla.