Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Christmas, break is over

After a whirlwind week, I find myself once again getting things together for another road trip. As we've done 3 of the last 4 weeks, we'll be leaving the Civic Center early to practice on the road. This time, it's Sesame Street and Elmo that are forcing us out of our home a day early. We'll be leaving at midnight Tuesday night to arrive in Fayetteville somewhere around 7am. We'll probably get on the ice at about 8am, skate until about 9:30, then head to breakfast while we wait to get into our rooms.

This whole last week has been a blur, despite us only playing 2 games. We hosted the Huntsville Havoc on Tuesday, December 22nd. They seem to be the team to beat this season, having lost only 4 games in regulation. They have a sizable lead in the standings, and we have yet to beat them this season (with the exception of one preseason game, with most of their big-name players sitting out). I don't think they're really that great a team, but they work hard and they're steady. They don't make many mistakes. And they have a very good goalie, as well. They've sure had our number this year.

We started off slow, but held them to only a power play goal through 2 periods, largely due to Ian Vigier's acrobatics in goal. Vigier stopped 18 of 19 shots in the first period. We came alive in the second and dominated the play, but only managed one goal to tie it at 1-1 going into the third period. We couldn't get things going for the first half of the third and gave up 3 straight goals to the Havoc. We dominated the play for the last few minutes, but couldn't find the back of the net until the last 2 minutes...too little, too late. The game ended in a 4-2 loss. That seems to be our bugaboo this season...we play 30 or 40 (or 50) minutes of good hockey but can't seem to sustain it for the entire 60 minutes. Sometimes we play well enough during the good times to hold on for the victory, but other times we don't. We let the other team get back into the game, rather than finishing them off. We seem to have no "killer instinct". That's something we need to figure out.
***We got some bittersweet news after the game. Goaltender Ian Vigier was getting called up to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. He's only expected to be gone for about a week, which means he'll miss 4 Cottonmouths games. While it's a good opportunity for him, I kind of like having our 1-2 tandem with Vigier and Rycroft, and having a little insurance in case anything happens to one of them. During Vigier's absence, our old friend Barney Slayton will fill in as EBUG (Emergency Back-Up Goaltender). It's a role he's familiar with, having served in that capacity for a handful of games last season.

After the Huntsville game, we had a few days off before our next game in Knoxville on the 27th. Some players headed home to spend the holidays with their families, but a few stayed in town during the break. It was strange to have Christmas off...in my previous 2 years here we've played a game on Christmas day. We had optional practices on the 23rd and 24th, with a few guys participating each day. Wednesday, we had our team Christmas party at TK's. It was a very nice gathering. Wanda and Shelby really know how to throw a party. It was nice to forget about hockey for a couple of days and let off a little steam...maybe recharge the batteries a little bit.

***Part of our hockey family received a wonderful gift on Christmas Day. Craig and Michelle Stahl welcomed their second child and first daughter. Congratulations, Stahl family!!!

We were back at work on Saturday, taking the ice at 11:30 for practice to prepare for Sunday's game at Knoxville. I stayed after practice to pack up, since we would be leaving at 8:30 Sunday morning for a 5pm game.

We loaded the bus and left for Knoxville right on time and settled in for the ride. As usual, the TVs went right to the NHL network to catch up on the highlights from the previous night's games. Most of the guys retired to their bunks right away and went back to sleep. We arrived in Dalton, GA at about 11:15 and stopped for lunch. A few of the staff went to Five Guys for burgers (fantastic!), while some made the trek to Longhorn Steakhouse, Schlotzky's, or Subway. We boarded the bus and got back on the road at about 12:30pm. We arrived at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum for the first time this season (I can't believe that we're on the verge of New Year's Eve and this is our first trip to Knoxville).

We played another pretty good game, holding a lead for much of it. Once again, we just couldn't seem to bury our chances and finish them off. The Ice Bears battled back and tied the game with a late goal, then went on to win the OT period. We got a point, but not the 2 points we should have had. Chad Rycroft took the loss, despite stopping 41 of 44 shots. He played a good game, and deserved the win. He stopped quite a few point blank shots, inlcuding breakaways to their 2 best players, Swider and Vitek. Once again, we played well enough to win. We just couldn't finish. It's becoming a recurring theme.

Now we're getting ready to get back on the bus, heading into the new year with 3 games in 3 nights in 3 different states. Hopefully we can start the new year on the right foot. Let's go ahead and make that our New Year's resolution. We'll see you soon. Go Snakes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays

Well, here we are on the doorstep of the Christmas holiday. For the first time since I came here we don't have a game on Christmas Day, which is nice. We have a game tomorrow night, December 22nd, then we're sort of off for 3 days (we have optional ice on the 23rd and 24th) before returning to practice on the 26th (that's Boxing Day, for you north-of-the-border dwellers). Then we jump on the bus bright and early on the 27th to head for Knoxville for a 5pm game, which is only fair considering that they've had to come here on Christmas Day for the last 2 years.
So, that's the week ahead. Now for the past 2 weeks. When I last blogged, we were in Fayetteville a day early because we had no practice ice in Columbus. We played the Fireantz on Friday night (Dec. 3rd), winning 3-2. The game really wasn't as close as that until the very end. We dominated the game and were cruising to a 2-0 win until the last 2 minutes. After getting caught with a tired line out on the ice after an icing call, we were unable to clear the zone after the ensuing faceoff and Fayetteville kept pressure on us until they finally found the back of the net with under a minute and a half remaining. That's the worst feeling when you have a nice comfortable 2-goal lead and they score to cut it to one. All of a sudden any little bounce or any little mistake can tie the game. Anything can happen in a goal-mouth scramble, and your nice comfortable cruise to victory suddenly feels like you're walking on pins and needles. You've given them momentum (which can be an invaluable weapon), and you've hamstrung yourself. It's hard to describe what goes through your mind at moments like this. Your grip gets a little tighter on the stick, your heart beats just a little bit faster, your breath hangs in your throat...you're right on the verge of panic. You try to fight the feeling, but there's no stopping it. Well that's where we were on this night. We were mad because we let Vigier down on his shutout bid (he has yet to record one this season, but probably has deserved 2 or 3), but more than that we were terrified of losing the lead. Well aware that one tiny mistake can make the difference in the game at this point, your only thought is not to be the guy that makes that mistake. And that's how they get you.

But not on this night. Luckily, after the Antz pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, Jeff Martens got the puck with a clear lane and he fired it down the ice into the empty net, giving us a 2-goal lead once again. It's a good thing, too. With under a minute left the Antz threw the puck at the net and got a weird deflection on a seemingly harmless play. Before anybody knew what was happening, the puck was in the back of the net. We fought off one last surge and held on for a 3-2 victory. It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it.

After the game, we returned to Columbus with no practice ice for the next few days. After a few gym days for the players, we packed up and headed to Huntsville a day early, as we had to Fayetteville the previous week. We were to play there on Thursday, but went up on Wednesday to practice on their ice. Again, it's not an ideal situation, but sometimes you just have to play the cards that are dealt to you. We got into the Von Braun Center in the midst of massive construction. A cloud of concrete dust hung in the air (which was also saturated with diesel fumes) during our practice. We battled through the haze and had a pretty decent practice before retiring to the hotel for the evening. There wasn't much to do at the hotel, so we pretty much just took it easy, which is probably a good thing.

We got up for the morning skate on Thursday rested and ready to go. We knew this was a big game, against the top team in the league. We got in a nice light skate, then headed back to the hotel for a team lunch. We had what I believe was our first shoe-check of the season, which is always a good icebreaker. The boys seemed pretty loose and relaxed.

The boys started arriving around 4:30pm. That's the thing about having the hotel right across the street...while it's convenient for me to be able to walk back to the rink instead of cabbing it, it also means that the players can come over whenever they feel like it. I don't really like that. When they have to ride the bus I have a good idea when they're going to walk through the door, so I know how much time I have to finish setting up. When they can come over on their own, I have to plan on being ready earlier, which kind of throws my whole routine off. I don't like it when guys show up and the room's not set up yet. It's like letting them see the man behind the curtain. When all goes as planned, the players walk in and the room is just magically ready to go...jerseys neatly hung, equipment stalls straightened, laundry passed out (See the picture from my last blog. That's what I want them to see when they walk in the room). I don't like when they walk in and catch me still doing it. It's not really a big deal, but I like for them to see it all set up and ready when they walk in.

Anyway, the guys showed up and went into their usual routines. This varies from player to player but may include grabbing a cup of coffee, reading the press notes, going to the training room for treatment, listening to their ipod, stickhandling out on the ice, kicking a soccer ball around to loosen up...any number of things. Whatever it takes each guy to get into the right frame of mind to play the game. Each guy has his routine and sticks to it like sap to a tree. I don't want to say that hockey players are superstitious, but most guys are fanatical about their pre-game routine.

We went out and played one of our best games of the year and after 65 minutes of hockey we were tied 1-1. We went to the shootout and it just wasn't Vigier's night. He got beaten by all 4 shots he faced and we lost the shootout 4-2 (for a final score of 2-1 SO). I felt so bad for Ian. I think he really felt like he had let his team down and he took it pretty hard. The truth is he played well to get us to the shootout. If you think about it, we played the best team in the league dead-even for 65 minutes of hockey. We didn't get the win, but at least we got a point for the shootout loss.

We came back home after the game and prepared to meet the Knoxville Ice Bears at the Civic Center on Friday and Saturday nights. We had an optional practice in the morning, then the boys went home to rest up for the game. We came out hard and built up a 3-1 lead. Knoxville battled back and tied the game midway through the third, but Tim Green netted the game-winner with about 2 and 1/2 minutes remaining to seal the win.

Saturday night the teams battled back and forth exchanging goals and leads all the way through. With the clock winding down below the 2 minute mark, Frank Furdero (who had been strangely quiet the whole game) took matters into his own hands. He scored the tying goal with just over a minute left, then stunned the crowd with the overtime winner. He skated to center ice and struck a pose, and I'm a little upset that somebody didn't grab him and pummel him on the spot. That's a bush-league, hot dog move, and he shouldn't be doing that. Maybe in front of the home crowd, but not in our barn. I hope our boys remember that when we see them again. We owe him one, in my opinion.

Anyway, while we're a little disappointed that we gave up the late lead on Saturday, all in all it was a pretty good weekend. We took 4 out of 6 points, and moved up in the standings from 5th place to 3rd. It wasn't a great weekend, but a good one.

After the weekend (and a much-needed day off), we were actually able to get back into a normal routine. With practice ice available Monday through Wednesday, we set ourselves to the task of preparing for our next game Saturday at Pensacola. We boarded the bus at 12:30pm Saturday and headed for the beach. I love the day trips like this one. First of all, we travel lighter because I don't need to bring a lot of the extra stuff I would for a longer trip. Aside from that, most of my work is done before we leave, so once we load up the bus I'm on the R.E.W. list (Ride, Eat, Watch***). I can relax on the bus, watch a movie (this trip it was "The Hangover"), listen to my ipod...just chill. We got off the bus, unloaded and got ready for the game.

The Snakes took the lead late in the first period, then the Ice Flyers answered early in the second. We just couldn't seem to get things going. After the tying goal, we seemed to be playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. We stopped hitting and the Flyers started swarming all over us. We were really back on our heels for most of the second period and most of the third. The Flyers exploded with 3 goals in less than 4 minutes, and it started to look ugly. The boys didn't quit and we battled back with a 3-goal outburst of our own, tying the game with the extra attacker on the ice for Vigier. We tied the game with less than 7 seconds remaining.

Each team could have won the overtime 5 or 6 times over. Both goalies stood on their heads to keep the game alive. Vigier made some unbelievable acrobatic saves to keep us in the game. After a scoreless overtime period, it was time for another shootout. It came down to the last shooter, but they got the best of us. Still, we got a point that we all realize we didn't deserve. Sometimes that's just how it goes. Lord knows we've lost a few that we should have won. Maybe this was just Karma paying us back for one that they owe us. In any case, we'll take the point. We are now 3-0-3 in our last 6 games, for 9 out of a possible 12 points. Again, it's not bad but it's also not great.

Now it's time to see what Santa has in store for us this week. Happy Holidays everybody! Go Snakes!

***R.E.W. was paraphrased from Barney Slayton.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the road again **Warning: It's a long one!**

With apologies to Willie Nelson, I usually CAN wait to get on the road again. We were just in Fayetteville last weekend, and now here we are again...and a day early, to boot. We played here last Friday night, bookended by home games on Thursday and Saturday. Coupled with two 7-hour bus rides to and from Fayetteville in between, that made for a long weekend. Sunday couldn't come quickly enough for me, and I spent most of the day trying to catch up on my sleep. Now, here we are again. We left at midnight last night (Wednesday night) and got to the arena just before 7am. We practiced from about 8-9:30am, then went to breakfast while we waited for our hotel rooms to be readied for our (early) arrival. We got to the hotel at around 11:30am and got checked in and made our way upstairs. Several guys made plans to go to the movie theater down the street, while some made their way to the mall near the IHOP where we stopped. We usually don't get much free time in opposing cities; we usually just go to the rink and the hotel, then back to the rink. It's nice when you have an opportunity like that to just hang out and relax for a little while. I myself spent the majority of the afternoon in my room trying to follow up on some orders (and checking in on my Facebook). I still may check out a movie (either at the theater or in my room), but other than that there's not much going on here.

I should apologize for the lack of posts here recently (just in case anybody's actually reading this). We've had a busy schedule recently and I just haven't made time to post on here like I originally intended. Let me catch you up:

We went on our first road trip of the season to Huntsville and Pensacola on the 6th and 7th of November. We came out sluggish in Huntsville and dug ourselves a hole. We battled back and made a game of it but ultimately fell short, losing to the Havoc 4-2. After the game, we boarded the bus and headed for Pensacola, arriving there at around 5am. We dropped the gear off and headed to the hotel to get some much needed rest, having spent 10 of the previous 16 hours on the bus. The sticks came alive on Saturday night and the Snakes cruised to a 7-4 victory. We built up a 6-1 lead, then held on through a 3-goal onslaught before icing the game with and empty netter in the closing seconds. I've got to hand it to the Ice Flyers; they never gave up and put up quite a fight in the end.

Before the game, we had the chance to visit with former Cottonmouth Lorne Misita. He's one of the guys that got squeezed out by the veteran rule last season after a 5-year tenure with the team. He's a good player and I'm sure that letting him go was a very tough decision for Jerome. It's one of those times that I'm glad I'm not the Head Coach.

Our practice schedule the following week was a little off-kilter because of events in the Civic Center, and we found ourselves leaving a day early for Mississippi because we had no practice ice. We left early on the morning of November 12th and arrived at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum just as the Fayetteville Fireantz were loading up the bus to leave. They were already in town to play the Surge that night, so we ended up dressing for practice in an open hallway, amid a couple dozen busy construction workers trying desperately to get the place ready for the game that night. We waited around for nearly an hour while a crew worked on the center-ice scoreboard, then finally got on and had our practice. It was a beautiful, balmy Gulf Coast day and most of the guys were in shorts and t-shirts for this trip. After practice, we loaded the gear back onto the trailer and headed for the hotel. We checked in and the guys scattered like dust in the wind. Some, no doubt, headed for the casinos. Many headed for the beach (right across the street from the hotel). Some of us hung out in the hotel until dinnertime.

After dinner, a bunch of us made our way back to the arena for the game. It's not often we get to sit in the stands and enjoy a game as spectators. It's a nice change of pace. We got to see our old friend, "Dynamite" Daryl Moor, suit up against the Fireantz. In typical Moorsy fashion, he had a pretty good game. He recorded an assist in the second period, and later managed to slash a Fayetteville player in the back of the legs and punch the goalie in the head without getting called for either infraction. Classic Moorsy. I miss that guy. After the game, we waited for the Fireantz to clear out of the visitors' locker room so we could move our stuff in. We set up for the next morning, then cabbed it back to the hotel.

The next morning, the usual gameday routine was in effect. I headed down to the rink early to set up and finish sharpening skates, then the bus followed along later with the players. We took to the ice in our customary 11am-noon visitors' time slot, had a light skate and then loaded up for the ride back to the hotel and our team lunch. After lunch, I packed my bag and caught a cab back to the rink to get ready for the game. We played a decent game, and Vigier played a pretty good game (stopping 34 of 35 shots), but we lost the game 1-0 on a power play goal by Matt Zultek (who leads the league in that category). The offense got their chances, but just couldn't connect on them (being foiled by former Snake Ryan Senft). It's a tough way to lose a game.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed for the place we'd all been dreading: Lafayette, Louisiana. Now, this is nothing against the state of Louisiana or the city of Lafayette. Having lived about an hour away from there for 3 years I have a strong affinity for the area. I actually attended numerous Ice Gators games in the Cajundome when they played in the ECHL. The only problem is that this team doesn't play in the Cajundome. They play in a crappy old rodeo barn a couple blocks up the road. I had heard the horror stories about this building and the visiting locker room facilities, and while they were certainly bad, they weren't as bad as I had built them up to be in my mind. I actually had to laugh when I saw the place. It reminds me of some of the old barns in the old WPHL (Western Professional Hockey League). I remember pulling into places like Waco and Abilene and El Paso and San Angelo and just dreading being in there. Those places were miserable. This place made me nostalgic for those days.

We dropped the gear, laid it out to dry as much as possible and headed to the hotel to catch a few Zs before heading back for the morning skate. We slogged through the morning skate, then the guys headed back to the hotel to rest up for the game. I went with the Gators' Equipment Manager, Frank "Rizzo" Jury, to grab some lunch and run a few errands. We hit up the Olive Garden for lunch, then went to a laundromat to do our laundry. There are almost no laundry facilities in the Blackham Coliseum, so whenever Rizzo has a visiting team in town he has to come here to get their laundry done. I've known Rizzo for about 14 years, so this was a nice chance to spend some time with him and catch up on some old stories. It was not the way I would normally spend my afternoon on a gameday, but it was kind of fun.

Rizzo got me and our laundry back to the arena and I began to set up for the game. There wasn't much I could do with this locker room (or should I say "these locker rooms"), but I made do the best I could. The guys showed up and went to work, but again we fell short by a goal...losing 2-1 to the Gators. This made the long bus ride back home even longer, and we all knew it would be a tough week of practice ahead.

Lousiana came to visit us the following week and we made up for lost time, beating them 4-1 on Friday night. Saturday, the Huntsville Havoc paid us a visit and came up with a 5-2 win. I really hate losing to those guys. They're so smug and cocky. It's really annoying. They have a good team, but I don't think they're nearly as good as they seem to think they are. Unfortunately, we haven't played a full 60 minutes either time we've faced them this season. The first meeting, in Huntsville, we started off slow and couldn't dig out of a hole. This time, we pretty much outplayed them for the first 50 minutes or so, then took a 2-minute nap and a 2-2 tie turned into a 5-2 loss.

Last weekend, the Snakes busted out the whoopin' sticks and shot down the Ice Flyers by a score of 8-1, thus spoiling the return of Lorne Misita to Columbus. It was another one of those games where we wished we could save a few goals for the next game. Especially given the fact that through Thursday's game Fayetteville's Guy St. Vincent had run his shutout streak to 126 minutes and change. We thought we might need all the goals we could get against them on Friday. As it turns out, we could have used a couple more. We managed to score 4 goals on Vinny, but allowed Rob Sich to score a hat-trick to lead the Fireantz to a 6-4 victory. Saturday it was back to the Snakepit for another reunion, this time with Daryl Moor, Ryan Senft and the Mississippi Surge. The Snakes built up a 4-0 lead and appeared to be cruising to another big win, but the Surge battled back to force a shootout (as they had done the previous night in Pensacola). "Scorin" Orrin Hergott iced the victory for the Cottonmouths in the shootout, but the blown lead raised some concerns over our killer instinct. When you've got a 4-goal lead against a team, you have to put that game away. You can't let a team up off the mat like that. Basically, we gave the Surge a point. That should never happen.

And now, here we are on the road again. Once again, we had to leave early because we had no ice available in the Civic Center. So, we bussed up here this morning for practice, then pre-game skate tomorrow and prepare to play the game. After the game, we'll head back home with no practice ice for the next few days. That means I should be able to get a couple of days off. Yay for me. But first, I'm hoping to get 2 points at the Crown Coliseum tomorrow night.

But then...that's not just me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Sweep It Is!!!

I just want to start off by saying I hate the Knoxville Ice Bears. I really hate them. Their smug attitude really irks me. They really think they're something special. And their fans? Their fans are even worse. They've been spoiled by having some very good teams to watch, but they are still way too arrogant for my liking. With that said, it was really nice to beat those guys in a 2-game series at the Snakepit this weekend.

We started off well, building up a 2-0 lead in the first period on Friday night. I think we got a little too high on ourselves and we let the Bears tie the game up in the second. After trading goals, we found ourselves in a 3-3 tie with under 2 minutes left in the game. That last 10 minutes or so was some really fun hockey to watch. Both teams had their chances and both goalies had to come up big to save the game for their respective teams. A late, hard-working goal by the Snakes pest, "Flyin'" Ryan McCarthy gave the Snakes the lead with just over a minute to play. The Bears pulled their goalie but couldn't get another goal past Snakes goalie Ian Vigier. I could say it was a good game for us, but really it was a good first and third period. The second period...not so much.

We followed up Friday night's game with a matinee on Saturday. Perhaps to leave the evening open for Halloween revelry, our game started at 1pm. I think both teams started a little sluggish with the short rest after an intense game Friday night, but things picked up in the second. It was a low-scoring game, but very intense. Each team had plenty of opportunities and it was another exciting game to watch. Chad Rycroft, making his season debut in goal for the Snakes, stymied the Bears and only gave up one goal. The Snakes managed 2 goals and held on through another late onslaught by the Bears to preserve the 2-1 victory. It was a hard-fought and well-earned win for the Snakes, and it moved us into a tie for first place with a 3-1 record.

It was a great weekend, especially headed into a 4-game road swing. It's nice to put up a few victories early, but there's still a lot of season left.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Opening Weekend

Well, our first weekend is in the books. We started off well with a 4-1 opening night victory over the visiting Fayetteville Fireantz. We looked good from top to bottom, offense to defense. Our Captain, Craig Stahl (aka "The Chief"), notched a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (One goal, one assist, one fight) and played like the young buck we all know and love. Goaltender Ian Vigier looked sharp, the defense played solidly in front of him, and the young forwards were buzzing around all over the place. All in all, it was a great way to start the season.

The second game couldn't have been more different, aside from the uniforms the teams were wearing. Steve Bounds got the start in goal and gave up 4 goals in the first 2 periods. He wasn't solely to blame...the whole team looked terrible for the first 40 minutes. Everything that we had done so well only the night before suddenly seemed beyond our capabilities. It was as if we had dressed a high school team in our uniforms and sent them out to do the job for us. We came back in the 3rd and battled for 3 goals, but finished one short in a 4-3 loss.

The loss spelled the end of the road for Steve Bounds with the Cottonmouths. He didn't look bad, but Beech just didn't feel that he was the man for the job. So now we're down to 2 goalies; Chad Rycroft and Ian Vigier. That brings us down to the required 18-man roster.
Monday began the process of preparing for this weekend's games against the Knoxville Ice Bears, with practice every day. We've had a pretty intense rivalry with the Bears during my 2 years here, and I expect that to continue despite the departure of Bears Head Coach Scott Hillman to Missouri of the CHL. They come in Friday night for a 7:30pm tilt and stay over for a 1pm matinee on Saturday. This is pretty unheard of: I've seen hockey teams play day games before (usually a 10 or 11 am school day game), but never following a night game the night before. It should be interesting to see how the guys from both teams respond to the short rest. On the plus side, a day game means we get to the bar that much earlier (although we have to clear out our locker room Saturday after the game to make room for Styx and REO Speedwagon on Sunday. I'm looking forward to seeing the concert, but not to clearing out Saturday and then having to move back in for Monday's practice. Anyway, big weekend ahead. I can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2 games down (sort of)

Our first weekend of games has come and gone, albeit only exhibition games. We're back at practice again this week, in preparation for our season and home opener Friday night. Our first victim is the Fayetteville Fireantz, the team that eliminated us in a 5th and deciding playoff game last season. We've changed quite a bit since then, and they probably have, too. I haven't seen their roster yet, so I don't know who made their team. Actually, I'm not completely sure who made our team. We made 3 cuts from training camp on Sunday, but still have 2 extra players on our roster. The 3 players cut were forwards Josh Coyle (who played here briefly at the end of last season), Brandon Heck and Atlanta native Jacob Cline. I wasn't surprised by any of those moves. They were the 3 that I agreed should be the first to leave.

We still need to cut one D-man (assuming we'll go with 6 again this season) and one goalie. Competition is heating up at those positions, and Jerome has a couple of very difficult decisions to make. This is one of those times that I'm glad I'm not the Head Coach or General Manager...and I'm certainly glad I'm not the Head Coach/GM.

We split a pair of preseason games with Huntsville this weekend, one at the Snake Pit in Columbus, and one at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. Each team won its home game, so the fans had plenty to cheer about. The first game in Columbus showcased a very different Havoc team from last season's. They had left 7 or 8 returning players at home to get a look at some of the young talent in their camp. The Snakes beat the pseudo-Havoc handily on the scoreboard and in most of the fights (of which there were several). The Havoc turned the tables on a sleepy-looking Snakes team Saturday night and skated away with a 4-3 win. I'm not sure either game will be indicative of how each team will play when the puck drops for real, but they were downright entertaining.

A couple more days of practice, and a couple more roster cuts, and this season will start for real. Go Snakes!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Training Camp - Day 4

Well, another day has passed in the Cottonmouths' training camp. We finally got our first look at goaltender Steve Bounds today. He was brought here to be our backup goalie to Chad Rycroft, but was loaned out to Coach Jared Bednar and the South Carolina Stingrays to fill out their roster until another goalie got sent down. Now he's finally here in Columbus, and with the return of Ian Vigier that gives us 3 goalies in camp. Bounds looked pretty good, from what I saw of him. I'm glad he made it here in time for the exhibition games, because otherwise Jerome's tough decision in goal would have been made even tougher. I mean, how do you judge somebody's abilities when you don't have the chance to see them in game action? You can't. So now we've got a real, live goalie competition...and it's shaping up to be a good one. Each of the 3 looks pretty good. I think whichever 2 we keep will be great for us this year. Again, I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make that decision.

In front of the crease, there looks to be a pretty good battle for the last few roster spots. I think there's 3 guys battling it out for the last 2 spots on defense and maybe 5 guys battling for the last 3 spots up front. It's going to come down to who performs in the preseason games to determine who stays and who goes. It should make for an interesting weekend. We have the Huntsville Havoc, coached by former Snake Randy Murphy, coming in tomorrow night and then hosting the Cottonmouths in Huntsville Saturday night. Then, after a well-deserved Sunday off, preparations will begin for the season opener next Friday night. I can't wait!

But then...that's just me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Training Camp - Day 2

Today went by very smoothly. We added one new player today, Jeff Martens. There are a few players so far who have already stood out. Tim Hockley, newly arrived from the rival Huntsville Havoc, has already made an impact on this team (to be accurate, he's made many impacts). He is playing very physical and it seems to be contagious. The whole team has amped up the body contact and it's nice to see. We won't get pushed around, that's for sure. Nicholas Boucher is not very big, but he plays fearlessly. He drives to the net hard, and if he gets knocked down he gets right back up again (cue "Tubthumping")...you're never gonna keep him down. Joey Martini has looked pretty good-very composed with the puck and he knows what to do with it. He's going to be fun to watch. And Kevin Kozlowski has looked pretty good on defense. Like Boucher, Koz is not very big, but you wouldn't know it by the way he plays (and he's got some skill, too). It's still very early, but so far I really like the way this team is shaping up.

We still have only 2 goalies in camp-Steve Bounds is still up in South Carolina. It will be hard for Jerome to make a decision on our goaltending situation when he hasn't even had a chance to watch the one guy that he's never actually seen play before. It should make things interesting. We currently have 12 forwards and 7 defensemen in camp, but there may still be one or two more late additions, depending on who becomes available out of ECHL and CHL camps. We've got 2 more days of camp before the exhibition games. That will be the real test for some of these guys-a chance to show what they can do. Some of these guys are going to need to step up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Training Camp - Day One

So today marked the beginning of the Columbus Cottonmouths' 2009-2010 training camp. Officially we opened camp yesterday with player physicals, but today was the first day on the ice, and that's what really counts in my book. It was a bit of a scramble to get the guys ready and get them out on the ice (it always is, really), but all things considered the morning went pretty smoothly. The players were stopped on their way to the ice, just long enough to pose for their program photos. We began practice on time, more or less, and skated for just shy of two hours. Then the players headed off for a quick dry-land circuit before showering and heading off to a team lunch.

The pace was pretty good for the first day of camp. I was impressed by the fitness level of the players. Everybody came to camp ready to go, which is a good sign. That means less attention will need to be paid to conditioning, allowing for more time to practice systems. There isn't much time to work on much of anything. We have 4 days on the ice, then our first preseason game comes on Friday, followed by a trip to Huntsville for a second preseason tilt. After that we'll have 3 more days on the ice to prepare for our home opener the following Friday. So that means Jerome only has 7 total days to work on conditioning and teaching the new guys the system. That's not a lot of time. Luckily, we have a pretty good core of experienced players to help drill the Cottonmouths' system into the newcomers. In the meantime, Jerome will have a few tough decisions to make on some of these players. We opened camp with 20 players on the ice today, with 2 or 3 more to join us later. One goalie is still in camp with the South Carolina Stingrays, and a couple more players may or may not be on their way to join us. That would leave Jerome with 4 or 5 cuts to make, assuming nobody else pops up on his radar between now and opening night (which is a distinct possibility). I know some teams have 30 or more players in camp, which means competition for jobs (which can be a good thing), but Jerome has a pretty good idea who his team will be comprised of (give or take a couple of tweaks). I'm confident that he will put together a good team.

But then...that's just me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hockey is in the air!

This is my favorite time of year. After a long summer, it's finally hockey time. We had our first informal skate today...not a real practice, but a few of the guys who are already in town getting on the ice to shake off a summer's worth of cobwebs. It's enough to make it feel like hockey season. All the elements are there...the chill in the air, the smell of the ice, the sound of steel slicing into the ice, the clap of the puck off the graphite stick blades, the clank off the iron, the crash off the boards. But beyond all that, there's a feeling inside-knowing that it's almost here. It's nice to finally have some hockey gear hanging in the dressing room, if only for a few days before we have to move out again for Disney. Last year, we didn't even have that. We had to start training camp in Pelham, Alabama for the first 2 days last year. We'll have another informal skate tomorrow, then maybe an early one on Monday before they start covering the ice. Then we won't be back on until camp opens the following Monday. Still, we're in the homestretch now. I can feel it coming. I can't wait for training camp!
8 days and counting!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Here I am

So, I've been thinking about starting a blog just to put down some random thoughts here and there. Well...really just here, I guess. Anyway, I'm planning to keep a journal about the day-to-day goings on around the professional hockey team I work for, the Columbus Cottonmouths. I plan on posting regularly about our games, and about life on the road. Hopefully I'll have something to post that people will find interesting. Stay tuned for more!