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")'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!