Monday, August 20, 2012

Georgia On My Mind

I've got good news, and I've got bad news. I'll give you the bad news first, since some of you already know it anyway. I will not be returning to the Cottonmouths this season. After a five-year run here, the time came for me to move on. I initially came here just to be a part of Craig Stahl's final season (which turned into his final 3 seasons). After he retired, I thought about following suit. But I wasn't ready to call it a career yet. Then after the following season I really felt like we were close to a championship and I was looking forward to what we would do last season. Well, you all know how last season turned out. Now, with my first professional championship under my belt (thanks to Boom Boom and the boys), it's time for me to move on.

So, with that in mind, I'm finally ready to announce my next move. I've just accepted the job as Equipment Manager for the Evansville Icemen of the ECHL. I'm pretty excited about it. They played in the Central Hockey League last season, but made the jump to the ECHL for this season. Their travel schedule is actually pretty decent. They have a new building (The Ford Center, opened just last season). All in all, it's a pretty good setup. I'm looking forward to it.

But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss Columbus. This team, this organization, is pretty special. I've been working in hockey for 23 years now, and I've never worked for better owners than we have here. Wanda and Shelby care about the team and always treat everybody like part of the family. That means a lot to people who spend most of the year away from their families. So for that I thank them.

Additionally, I'd like to thank Jerome for bringing me here in the first place and for giving me the chance to be a part of something pretty special. Like the Amos', Jerome treats everybody like family. I have had the chance to meet some extraordinary people in this game, and I would put Jerome high on that list. Columbus is lucky to have him.

I'd also like to thank the office staff; Jason Bray, Erin Thames, Whitney Mixon, and Lindsey Gierer. They were always willing to help with anything and exemplified teamwork and cooperation. I'll miss all of them.

Next, I'd like to thank all of the players I worked with during my time here. You made my 5 years very special. We had a great group of guys each year, and I hated saying goodbye each year as much as I enjoyed welcoming the new guys each year. They exhibited great character (and some of them were great characters) and I was proud to work with them. I'll miss them and think about them warmly and often.

Also, thanks to Hannah Peterson, the Cottonmouths' Trainer. She was a pleasure to work with. She's a good trainer and was a great friend.

I know I've mentioned them before, but I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the equipment staff. Flip, Shooter, Barney, Ryno, T-Mac, Bubba, and Mike did a great job for the Snakes, and I appreciated everything they did. They helped make this job a true pleasure. I'll miss them most of all.

Finally, I'd like to thank the fans. Columbus has the greatest fans and I had the great pleasure to meet many of you. Everybody here treated me very well and I appreciate it greatly.

For my final blog before I leave Columbus, I'd like to do a top 5 list of my favorite Cottonmouth moments. 

#5 - Legends weekend 2008. This was my first experience with this type of game, and though it was a lot of work it was worth it in the end. It was very cool to see all the old players come back, and I really liked the throwback jerseys we wore. It was a long weekend but a lot of fun.

#4 - Snakes @ Fireantz, December 2010. The week before Christmas, we had a game in Fayetteville. We weren't doing well in the standings, and Fireantz Coach Tommy Stewart made some comments in the paper calling us the worst team in the league. Trailing 3-1 in the second, Jerome called a timeout and read the boys the riot act. We came out hitting after that and a particularly hard hit by Jeff MacPhee touched off a line brawl. We then proceeded to come back and win the game just to spite Stewy for making those comments about us. It was a great game to watch. There were nice goals, great saves, a big comeback, a line brawl...a little something for everybody.

#3 - Snakes Vs. Ice Flyers, 12/2/11. The Ken Porter game. We were a little short-handed due to injuries and call-ups, so we turned to the Army for help. As luck would have it, Fort Benning was the home base of Captain Ken Porter, who had played hockey at West Point before reporting for duty. Not only did he fill in admirably, he scored the winning goal in his first game with us (with his family in attendance). It was the kind of story that even Hollywood can't make up. It was very special to be a part of it.

#2 - Craig Stahl retirement ceremony. It was cool to see the Chief in a Snakes uniform one last time. It was bittersweet, to be sure, but it was nice to see all the old teammates that came out to celebrate his Cottonmouths career. It was a very moving tribute to a guy who meant a whole lot to the team...and to me. It was an honor to be here for the last three years of his career and a pleasure to see his jersey number hung to the rafters.

#1 - I'm sure there's no surprise here, but my number one moment of my five seasons here was winning the President's Cup (Just look at this picture.) Actually, it was more than that. It was the whole playoff run and the stretch run to get to the playoffs. Including 6 for 6 in the playoffs, we won 20 of our last 24 games (going all the way back to February 4th). That's a pretty impressive run. And it was so much fun to be a part of.

And with that, it's time to ride off into the sunset. It's been a thin slice of heaven living here for the last 5 years. You stay classy, Columbus.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We are the Champions, my friends

Well it's been a month, so I think I'm finally ready to start putting it all together. Any of you who follow me know by now that my team, the Columbus Cottonmouths, won the SPHL President's Cup Championship with a 3-1 victory in Pensacola. It is the first Championship of my professional career, and I've been simply overwhelmed by it all. I've waited my whole career to get my mug in a picture like this one. We have one around the locker room of the 2005 team. I used to find myself staring at it a lot. I probably won't do that anymore. I've often thought of what it would feel like to win a championship. I mean, I've played on teams that have won Men's League championships before, but this really counts. It's absolutely not the same. I've wondered how it would feel, how I'd react.

Well, now I know. It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks that I'll never forget. We didn't get to win it at home as we would have liked, but a large and very vocal contingent of our fans made the trip down to Pensacola for what turned out to be the deciding game. It was a very intense game. You could see that both teams wanted it. Jordan Braid bounced back up after taking a hard hit and buried a shot under the crossbar to put the Snakes on the board midway through the 1st period. The Ice Flyers bounced back with an unassisted goal by Ryan Salvis about 5 minutes later. Greg Beller outworked the defense to score the go-ahead goal about 15 minutes into the 2nd period. From that point on, it seemed like time was moving in slow motion. Our defense worked hard to preserve the lead, and Vigier faced a barrage of shots, but nothing got past him...nothing crossed the goal line. It was a hard-fought, physical, intense game and there were lots of scoring chances for both teams...both goalies played very well to hold their teams in the game. But try as they might, the Flyers couldn't net the equalizer. Finally, with Flyers' goalie Steve Christie pulled for the extra attacker, the Snakes managed to clear the puck out to center ice where it was chased down by John Sullivan. With a defenseman chasing him, he managed to lift a backhander from the blue line into the empty net, sending our bench into a frenzy. All that tension that had built up throughout the game exploded into a wild celebration. With only 28 seconds left we were pretty sure the game was ours and could finally relax and enjoy the moment.

And what a moment it was. As the final seconds counted down sticks were dropped, gloves went flying, and bodies spilled over the boards onto the ice. After wrapping each other up in big bear hugs the bench staff followed the players out to the dogpile. We made our way through the crowd, hugging everybody in sight. Then we made our way toward center ice for the handshakes. This is still one of my favorite parts of the game. The fact that these guys, who were fighting each other tooth and nail just moments ago, can now shake hands as friends once the game is over embodies the great spirit and honor of our game. No matter what happened during the game, all is forgiven once the final buzzer sounds. It's what separates us from the other sports. There's a modicum of respect after the game (and the series) for a worthy opponent.

After the handshakes came the presentation of the cup, and the team pictures. We've all seen them...sweaty players, coaches, and staff posing deliriously around the cup. I've seen many of those pictures but never been a part of one before. It was everything I dreamed it would be. We took one facing our fans up in the stands so that they could all get a picture of it, then Peter MacDougall suggested turning around and taking a second picture from the other side so that you could see our fans in the background. I thought that was a very cool idea. Then we took the cup back to the locker room and the real celebration began. And yes, it was everything you would imagine from such a celebration...a water jug dumped on the Coach's head, beer and champagne being sprayed all over everybody, hooting and hollering, hugging, and high-fiving. Everybody took a turn drinking from the cup and posing for pictures with it. The players' wives and girlfriends were invited in along with a few parents and close family members. I'm actually quite amazed at the number of people we had in that little room. After a while, several of the guys took the cup out to our fans who were still waiting outside by our bus for us to come out. They got their chance to join in the celebration.

While most of the guys were outside with the fans, the room emptied out enough that we could finally start packing up. I had had Tyler gather up all the discarded gloves and helmets in a shopping cart and we wheeled them into the room to pass them back out. A few of the guys had already packed their bags without their gloves and helmets, so we just started tossing extra gear into any available bag. Finally, we got everything packed and loaded onto the bus so we could head for home. When we got back to Columbus, we dropped the gear off at the Civic Center. Since nobody was in any condition to drive home, the bus dropped us off at the apartments. The following week was kind of a blur of celebrations. We partied with the cup all around town. It was a blast, but after a while we had to come back down to earth.

In the month or so since that first week, I've had to say goodbye to most of the players. Most of them have gone home for the summer...some for good. But I'd just like to take a moment to thank everybody involved in this wild ride we had this season. From Wanda and Shelby to Jerome and Brad to Hannah and the locker room staff to all the players...this has been the best team I've been a part of. And last but not least, thanks to all the fans who made it all possible. Thanks to all of you for my most memorable season.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Final Thoughts

So, I'm sitting here in the hotel on the morning of our biggest game of the year. Of course, I've referred to each game of this year's playoffs as our biggest game of the year, because each one is bigger than the one before it. As you can see from the photo to the right, we have one more goal to more piece to the puzzle. Each of those pucks represents a playoff win. The empty circle represents the one more puck that we need to get.

I've never been here before. In my entire 17-year career, I had only been to the Finals once before. We lost that series 4 games to 1 in a best-of-seven series. We lost the deciding game at home and had to watch the other team parade the cup around on our home ice. I never want to feel that again. This is the first time I've gone into a game knowing that when it's all over we might be champions. I like this feeling. Part of me doesn't want it to end. I've really enjoyed this run we've been on. Ending the regular season on a hot streak and then carrying that into the playoffs...let's just say we're feeling pretty good about ourselves right now. The hotel we're staying in is a definite step up from where we usually stay on the road. We're feeling kinda big time right now. I'm just trying to soak it all in and savor it while I can.

I'm up at 6am writing this blog because I can barely sleep. I'm like a kid on Christmas morning. I'm full of nervous energy and I don't know what to do with it. I can't wait to get down to the rink and get started setting up for the morning skate. I can't wait for Game Time. It seems so far away I don't know how I'll ever make it to 7:05pm. That's over 12 hours from now! I just want to get the game started. Can we just wake everybody up and play the game this morning? I guess not. We wouldn't want to start without our fans, and I know a bunch of them are heading down today for the game. So, come on down to the Pensacola Civic Center tonight and watch the Cottonmouths' biggest game of the year. This one should be an epic battle. I can't wait!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Home Stretch

Once we got past the holidays, and the calendar turned to 2012, the season began to fly by. We began on the road with a 2-game series in Louisiana. Lafayette is basically the only place in the league that's far enough away that we need to go there the day before the game. Everywhere else is basically a day trip for us. While I like the day trips (we start off at home and end up at home and get to sleep in our own beds), I kind of miss being on the road once in a while. This trip was a nice remedy for that.

We jumped out to a 3-1 lead on the strength of 2 goals by Andrew Krelove and one by Orrin Hergott. After that, things kind of went south. The Gators scored 4 unanswered goals (including a Robert Short hat-trick) to win the game 5-3. Not a good way to start the new year.

The next day's game was a matinee, rescheduled to avoid a conflict with the Saints' playoff game. After a good night's rest the boys went to work, opening a 2-0 lead on power-play goals by Jesse Cole and Tom Maldonado. The Gators' Tyler Lyon closed the gap to 2-1 and we went to the third period nursing a 1-goal lead. Andrew Krelove continued his hot weekend with yet another power-play goal. August Aiken answered for the Gators but they were unable to net the equalizer and the Snakes held on for a 3-2 lead.

After splitting the series in Louisiana, the Snakes decided to go streaking. We won the next game at home against Huntsville, then lost in OT in Augusta. Then we won 3 in a row, then lost 1, then won 2.

During one of these games, in Columbus against the Ice Gators at the end of January, I saw something remarkable. In the middle of a back-and-forth game, Josh Duplantis scored his second goal of the game to give the Gators a 3-2 lead. We hadn't been playing very well and needed some kind of spark. Will Barlow was on the bench and knew something needed to be done. He called out to Gators forward Kevin Beauregard, who was on the ice, "Hey, Beauregard, ya wanna go?" I still don't know why he chose Beauregard, other than the fact that he was on the ice and would be willing to fight Twirl, but he looked over and said "Sure". Barlow hopped the boards and took the place of our right winger. The puck dropped, the gloves dropped, and then this happened:

(Special thanks to Chris Icenhour at Icenhour productions for the video)

I really don't think Beauregard knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to fight Twirl, but he got all he could handle, and then some. That's what I love about Barlow; he doesn't look, talk, or act like a tough guy but when the gloves come off he can tangle with the best of them. I think that's why other "tough guys" take him lightly. He doesn't look like a tough guy.  But he is. Just ask Kevin Beauregard, or Britt Ouellett, or any one of a number of tough customers that Will has handled during his time as a Cottonmouth.

The best thing about this fight was that it had the desired effect. It got the team fired up and we scored 2 goals in the third period to take a 4-3 lead. Unfortunately, Louisiana managed to score an extra-attacker power-play goal in the final minute of regulation to force overtime. Jordan Braid scored 1:59 into the OT period to secure the win, so it all turned out well in the end.

After that series we lost 2, then won 2, then lost another one before winning a season-high 5 straight (which included 2 against Augusta). We then won 5 of our next 7 games to set up the battle for 2nd place. We entered the last weekend of the season having won 9 of our last 12 games and in a virtual tie with Knoxville for 2nd. So, of course, we opened that weekend with a game in Knoxville, a place where wins were few and far-between in previous seasons. That wasn't the case this season, however. For whatever reason, we had good luck against the IceBears in general and specifically in Knoxville. We went into that game knowing that it was going to be the key to taking 2nd place. Whoever won would be alone in 2nd with each team playing the same 2 opponents over the last 2 nights of the season. Winning that game would put us in the driver's seat.

As expected, it was a tightly played game. After a scoreless first period, we scored 2 goals late in the second to take a 2-0 lead. We thought we were cruising. Then Knoxville showed why they've been the #2 team in the league for most of the season. The Bears came out flying in the third, scoring 2 quick goals to tie up what was essentially a playoff game. They put pressure on us and goalie Ian Vigier, but Vig slammed the door shut time and time again. The game remained tied 2-2 at the end of regulation and we went to Overtime to settle things. Of course. Why wouldn't it come down to Overtime of Game #54? Each team had a couple of shots in the OT period when the Snakes caught a break. A bad change for the IceBears led to a 2-on-1 break with Jordan Braid and Sam Bowles. To be accurate, it was more like a partial break for Braid with Bowles coming in late. The defenseman had an angle on Braider so he couldn't attack the net directly. We all expected him to take the shot with Sammy driving to the net looking for a potential rebound. He surprised us all by carrying the puck behind the net and curling back around the other side. The defenseman, now in a full-on panic, skated into the net and knocked the net off its moorings at about the same time the goalie did the same thing. They ended up in a heap in the crease as Braid centered the puck out to Sammy for an easy tap-in goal. Sammy leapt into the air, Braider in hot pursuit for the obligatory celebratory hug. He chased Sammy all the way down the ice to the opposite end. Sammy waved good-bye to the stunned crowd as our bench emptied and our whole team followed Sammy down to the door and right off the ice. Hannah and I quickly gathered up our stuff from the bench and left the ice as the stunned IceBears were arguing that the goal should not have counted because the net had been dislodged before the puck entered. We didn't hang around to give the ref a chance to change his mind.  I've never seen anything like it.

As for the goal, here is the rule that Referee Stephen Thomson applied (from the SPHL rule book downloaded from

63.6 Awarded Goal - In the event that the goal post is displaced, either deliberately or accidentally, by a defending player or goalkeeper, prior to the puck crossing the goal
line between the normal position of the goalposts, the Referee may award a goal.
In order to award a goal in this situation, the goal post must have been displaced by the actions of a defending player or goalkeeper, the puck must have been
shot (or the player must be in the act of shooting) at the goal prior to the goal post
being displaced, and it must be determined that the puck would have entered the net
between the normal position of the goal posts

That being said, I'm pretty sure the IceBears are still arguing that call somewhere. But the win put us 2 points ahead of Knoxville, each with 2 games remaining (against the same 2 teams, Fayetteville and Augusta).

After that game, you would have thought we stole something (and Bears fans would agree). We packed and loaded and got out of Dodge. We headed up the road to Fayetteville for a game against the Fireantz, while the IceBears prepared to head to Augusta for a game the next day. We had the leg up that we wanted in the battle for 2nd place, but we still had 2 games to play. You would think we wouldn't have to worry about the last-placed team, but sometimes those are the most dangerous teams to play down the stretch. With nothing to play for themselves those teams can play the spoiler role with no pressure on themselves. Sometimes those teams can surprise you and really do some damage.

This was not one of those times. After dropping the gear at the arena and going to the hotel for a good rest, the boys showed up and administered a beating to the hapless Fireantz. The Snakes led 3-0 before the game was eight minutes old and never looked back. It was 6-0 seven minutes into the 2nd. Josh McQuade finally got the Antz on the board at 15:29 of the 2nd period. Each team scored a pair of goals in the 3rd for a final score of 8-3. The Snakes' power-play (the best in the SPHL) scored an unprecedented 6 power-play goals. No, that is not a typo. 6 power-play goals.

Knoxville managed to win their game in Augusta, so everything would come down to the last day of the season (as I had been saying for 2 weeks). Knoxville returned home to face Fayetteville and we hosted Augusta (in what would also be the deciding game in our season series with them and the battle for the Peach Cup). Heading into the last game we led by 2 points, so we just needed to get 1 point (or have Knoxville lose) to clinch the #2 seed in the playoffs.

The only problem with that scenario was that we had to play the #1 team in the league while Knoxville played the last-place team in the league. We knew we couldn't count on any help from Fayetteville, so we would just have to take matters into our own hands. That was the good thing about our situation. Going into a game knowing that we just have to take care of our own business-then it doesn't matter what the other team does-was somewhat comforting.

And take care of our own business we did. "Scorin'" Orrin Hergott got the Cottonmouths on the board with a power-play goal just 5:36 into the game. Mitch Wall made it 2-0 about eight minutes later, and the Snakes never looked back. By the time we went into the locker room for the 1st intermission, we already knew that Knoxville was (somehow) losing at home to Fayetteville. What we didn't know was that we already had the goals we needed to clinch 2nd place.

Levi Lind got a quick goal in the first minute of the 2nd period, which was answered by Augusta's Ed Snetsinger at 2:30 of the period. Dave Cianfrini drove the final nail into Augusta's coffin with a short-handed goal at the 5:31 mark of the 3rd. This led to the entire Snakes bench erupting into fits of laughter. If we could pick the one guy we would most like to have on a breakaway, Cheech would not be that guy. When the guys play juice-boy at the end of practice (shootout game where the last guy to score has to get Gatorade for all of the other guys who play) Cheech doesn't always "win", but he's usually in until the later rounds. He's definitely not our most gifted scorer on the breakaway. When he came out of the penalty box and took the stretch pass there was a brief moment of excitement ("all right...we've got a breakaway") followed immediately by the sudden crash to earth when we realized who it was ("oh,'s Cheech"). Cheech walked in on Riverhawks goalie Jon Olthuis, made a move like he knew what he was doing, and scored on Olthuis. I think he was as surprised as anybody that he scored. It was a great moment.

When the dust settled we were the #2 seed in the SPHL playoffs, meaning that we would have home-ice advantage against anybody we played except for Augusta. Not only that, but we finished the regular season on a 3-game winning streak. It's nice to have a little momentum going into the playoffs. We would have to wait almost an hour after our game to find out that we would play Louisiana in the first round. We had a mixed reaction to the news that we would play Louisiana-we knew they were a beatable team, but we didn't have a great record against them. Due to building-availability issues we would play the first game at the Cajundome, the home of the Ice Gators. This meant that games 2 and 3 would be back at the Snake Pit. I liked the sound of that. This was already shaping up to be an exciting matchup. I couldn't wait for the playoffs to start.  This was going to be fun.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Holidays

We entered the month of December on a bit of a downward trend. We had lost 2 games in a row, and lost 2 players to injury in the span of a couple of weeks. To make matters worse, Levi Lind got called up to Rapid City of the CHL. To fill the void, Jerome "enlisted" some special help. He combed the ranks of the Columbus Hockey Association's adult league for a player who might help us out for a few games.  The success of Zach McKelvie, a Ft. Benning officer who went from the Columbus Adult Hockey League to the Boston Bruins training camp, gave us hope that there might be another good hockey player assigned to the Columbus area. Our search uncovered Captain Ken Porter, a West Point graduate who played for the Black Knights hockey team while at the USMA. Upon his assignment to Fort Benning, he signed up this season to play hockey in the CHA adult league (which is apparently becoming quite a talent pool for professional hockey players). Having been spotted by our own Matt "Shooter" DePuydt, Ken rose to the top of our list of potential loaner players. Jerome quickly recruited him to fill in for us, and we had another healthy body in the lineup.

Captain Ken (or "Sarge" as some of the guys call him, no offense intended) wasted no time making his mark, scoring what would turn out to be the winning goal in his first game with the Snakes. Sam Bowles would add an empty-net goal to secure a 2-0 win. It was an ending straight out of Hollywood.

There was a scary moment in the first period (the kind we've seen too many of this season) when Ice Flyers forward Mike Carter took a hard check from Snakes defenseman Kevin Kessler. As Carter fell to the ice, Kessler fell over him and accidentally kicked him in the face with his skate. It happened about 10 feet from where I stand on the bench and I saw it clearly. It was a clean hit, but Carter was out on his feet. He fell straight to the ice and made no attempt to put his arms out to protect himself from the fall. During the fall, Carter's helmet rode up on his head and exposed his face to the impact of Kessler's skate. It was a horrific accident. I immediately signalled for Pensacola's trainer, Lacey Toth, to get out to help him. You know it's a serious injury when opposing players on the ice signal for the trainer. Lacey and Hannah both made their way out to Carter and began administering first aid. Then the EMTs came out and carried Carter off to continue his treatment. There was a large pool of blood where Carter had fallen and it took a few moments to scrape up all of it. No matter how many times I see injuries like this, it's still a little unsettling every time.

After the injury, Referee Paul Maciejewski called a penalty against Kessler for Checking From Behind. It was a bad call. He hit him shoulder-to-chest. He kept his elbows tucked in. He didn't leave his feet (until after the impact, when he stumbled over Carter's prone body). It was a perfectly clean check, but the height difference between Kessler and Carter resulted in Kessler's shoulder riding up into Carter's jaw and chin area. It was an unfortunate accident, but it shouldn't have been a penalty. Nevertheless, the Snakes killed off the penalty without giving up a goal. Carter left the game and didn't return. Aside from the large gash over his left eye, I'm pretty sure he was concussed. I spoke to him after the game and he didn't remember most of what had happened. All things considered, the injury could have been worse. I guess he can be thankful that it wasn't.

The next night, we hosted the Mississippi Surge. Despite a lackluster first period, the Snakes took a lead on a Jesse Cole goal late in the frame. The Surge went to work in the second, outscoring us 3-1 to enter the third period with a 3-2 lead. John Sullivan scored early in the third to tie the game, but Rob Campbell scored a late goal to ice the 4-3 victory for the Surge.

The following Friday found us in Huntsville to play the Havoc. After a scoreless first period, Huntsville went on the offensive in the second, unleashing a barrage of 18 shots. Snakes goalie Andrew Loewen managed to stop all but 2 of them, while the Snakes scored 2 goals on their 8 shots in the frame.

Something happened in the second period that I had never seen before. Mitch Wall had been playing with an injury to his right hand, which required his hand to be splinted. According to league rules, if he fights with tape below his wrist and causes an injury (e.g. if he cuts his opponent) he will be thrown out of the game and possibly suspended. So, needless to say, Wally has been told not to fight. The problem with that is that he has a reputation as a tough guy which, along with his style of play, leads him to a lot of situations where he gets asked to fight. This game was one of those. Havoc tough guy Sam Cannata challenged Wally to a fight and Wally responded. I panicked when I saw his glove hit the ice...but then I realized that it was only one glove. He kept the right glove on and just used his right hand to grab onto Cannata's jersey while bombarding him with lefts. He simply overpowered Cannata with a flurry of punches and beat him down to the ice. When the linesmen pulled Wally off of Cannata, he still had his right glove on so the ref never saw that his hand was taped. So he had basically fought Cannata with one hand and beat him bloody. In 18 years of pro hockey, I have never seen a guy do that. And he would do it again before the night was over, in the third period against Havoc heavyweight Gabriel Boutin-Gagnon (who may have the best name in the league).

Despite being outshot 24-13 through 2 periods, the Snakes entered the third tied at 2-2. The Snakes scored the only 3 goals of the period to win 5-2.

On Saturday we were back home for a meeting with the Mississippi Surge. Snakes goalie Ian Vigier was called on to hold the fort early and often, holding the Surge scoreless despite facing 19 shots on goal in the frame. Cottonmouths forwards Jesse Cole and Orrin Hergott scored on 2 of the Snakes' 11 shots for a 2-0 lead after one. The Surge battled back in the second and entered the third period down 3-2. Hergott and Jordan Braid added goals in the third to close out the Snakes' second consecutive 5-2 victory.

The following weekend we took our show back on the road. The trip started with a day trip to Pensacola on Friday. We've had trouble beating the Ice Flyers this season, and this game was no exception. They're a hard-working team and just keep coming at you. They pressure you until you make a mistake and then they capitalize on that mistake. It's not as easy as it sounds, but they make it appear that way sometimes. This was one of those nights. We managed 27 shots on goal, but couldn't sustain much offensive pressure and didn't generate many really good scoring opportunities. Pensacola put up 30 shots, with 3 of those finding the back of the net. There wasn't much to talk about in this game, except for Daniel Amesbury. He fought three times in the game (including once after the final buzzer), but the main event was his fight with Adam Kuhn. Kuhn is not much to look at. He's on the small side for a fighter, but he seems willing to go with anybody. This wasn't his first fight with Amesbury, but it was his most memorable. Danny laid a beating on that poor kid. I'm surprised he was able to get up. And not only did he get up, he made airplane wings with his arms and "flew" over to the penalty box, sending the P-Cola crowd into a frenzy. I think they cheered more loudly for his flight to the box than they had for his goal earlier. Say what you will about the kid, but he knows his role on this team and has apparently embraced it. He's got guts. I'll say that for him.

After the game we got to experience a piece of minor-league life. We had been alerted that we wouldn't be able to move into the locker room in Biloxi until Saturday morning because of a concert on Friday night. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to hang our gear in Pensacola because they were having graduation ceremonies the next day and started their changeover right after our game. So, we were left without a place to dry out our equipment for the next day's games. The solution...we called the hotel where we had booked our accommodations for the night and asked if there was a room we could use to lay out our gear to dry. It wasn't ideal, but it was better than leaving the gear in the bags and wearing wet gear the next day. Working in minor-league hockey I've had to deal with this situation before. Usually, it ends up being a conference room or banquet room, and you can spread the gear out and hang it over the backs of chairs. Then you turn on a couple of fans to circulate the air around the room, turn up the heat if you can, and hope for the best. In this hotel, all that they had available was a regular room. It was a single, with a King-sized bed. We cranked up the heat in the room, turned on our fans to help circulate the air, then spread our gear out the best we could to allow it to dry out. After 12 hours, we packed up the gear and loaded the bus to head for Biloxi. I'd hate to have been the next person to rent that room.

We arrived in Biloxi on time, contrary to appearances. We were outshot 14-7 in the first period, and outscored 2-0 during that span. We came to life in the 2nd, outshooting them 14-13. After a scoreless 2nd period, we outshot them 10-6 in the third and tied the game at 2-2 on goals by Mitch Wall and Sam Bowles in the 3rd. It didn't take long for Sam to end the overtime, scoring just 25 seconds into the extra frame.

We stumbled into the holiday week, dropping the Thursday night game to Fayetteville despite a 2-goal effort from Daniel Amesbury and a 42-23 shooting advantage for the Snakes. We followed that up with a 5-1 loss in Pensacola, despite outshooting them 36-23.

We were off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but had to board the bus on Boxing Day to head up to Fayetteville for a game. It started out as a typical road trip. We left in the morning and stopped for lunch along the way. After lunch, we boarded the bus for the remainder of the trip. As we got moving, we knew something was wrong. We crept along in 1st gear, unable to up-shift into 2nd. Tex tried several things to "goose" the bus into 2nd gear, to no avail. He finally gave up and pulled the bus off the highway. Jerome got on the horn and started working on finding a mechanic nearby who could come and help us. As it turned out, the problem wasn't something we could quickly fix so we had to move on to Plan B. Jerome found a nearby bus charter service and made a deal to get us picked up by a new coach bus. While not an ideal replacement for our nice sleeper bus, it was the best solution available. We unloaded our gear from the trailer and got off the bus to wait for our new ride and to allow the tow truck to haul the bus away. We finally  boarded the replacement bus at about the time we would have normally arrived in Fayetteville. We arrived at the Crown Coliseum and scrambled to unload the bus and get dressed for the game. The Fireantz were already warming up when we finally took the ice. After a 10-minute warmup period, we skipped the usual intermission and went straight into the game. The bus legs weren't a factor as we outshot the Fireantz 13-6 and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. We added 2 more in the 2nd for a 5-0 lead before the Antz finally got on the board late in the frame. They added 2 more in the third before Greg Beller drove the final nail in their coffin with an empty-net goal at 17:59 of the 3rd period. Beller marked his return from the Injured Reserve list with a 3-point night. Welcome back, Bellsy! We boarded the coach bus for the trip home to play Fayetteville again in Columbus.

We cruised to an easy victory. Derek Pallardy scored less than 2 minutes into the game and the Snakes never looked back. Greg Beller added a goal early in the 3rd, and another a few minutes later while Ian Vigier turned away all 19 shots he faced. It was probably the easiest game we had all year.

Heading into the New Year's holiday weekend we hosted the Knoxville IceBears. After a goal by Mike Towns gave the IceBears a 1-0 lead in the first, Sammy Bowles went to work. He scored a short-handed goal midway through the 2nd and a power-play goal early in the 3rd to give the Snakes a 2-1 lead. IceBears forward Jason Ford tied the game midway through the final frame to force overtime. After a scoreless OT period we went to the shootout. Emery Olauson scored in the sudden-death portion of the shootout to secure the victory for the IceBears.

We boarded the coach bus again for the trip to Augusta to close out 2011. Scorin' Orrin Hergott scored just 1:46 into the game to give the Snakes a lead, but the Riverhawks responded with 2 of their own goals to take a 2-1 lead. Daniel Amesbury and Orrin scored in the 2nd period to give the Snakes a 3-2 lead that we would hold until the final minute of the 3rd.  At 19:43 Neal Graham scored with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker to force overtime.

During the overtime period, the notoriously bad ice in Augusta made things pretty interesting. An Augusta defenseman, attempting to move the puck out of his own zone, fanned on the puck and lost it to Derek Pallardy, sending him all alone on a breakaway. The same ice that gave him the opportunity then took it away as he tried to make a move and the puck stuck on the ice, forcing Pally to overskate it. On the ensuing play, the other Riverhawks defenseman picked up the puck and tried to move it up ice. Again, the puck stuck to the ice and the d-man overskated. Pally picked up the loose puck again and walked in on another clean breakaway. Once again, the bad ice took the puck away from Pally and saved Riverhawks' goalie Jon Olthuis. Pally finally managed to hold onto the puck long enough to slip it past Olthuis for the win at 2:03 of the overtime period. We closed out the year 2011 with a big road victory in a building in which we couldn't buy a win last season. We finished the month of December with a 7-4-1 record, 8 points behind 2nd place Knoxville.