Friends Bailer, Johnson return to Snakes' roster

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJuly 16, 2013 

When rookie defensemen Chris Bailer and Kyle Johnson arrived at Columbus Cottonmouths training camp last October, they shared only a position on the Snakes' blue line.

A year later, they return as best friends.

Bailer and Johnson join forward Matt Gingera on the training camp roster. Camp begins in mid-October and the Snakes launch their tenth SPHL season two weeks later.

Bailer didn't point to one specific factor or event that initiated the friendship.

"It was a combination of things," Bailer said. "We were roommates. We play the same position and the had the same style. We have the same personality and like to joke around. We're from the same area. He didn't have a car, so I took him everywhere."

Bailer hails from Wetaskiwin, Alberta, the home town of assistant coach Brad Prefontaine, while Johnson calls Edmonton, Alberta, home. The two faced each other many times in juniors, but didn't meet until they separately traveled more than 2,400 miles to Columbus.

"We never met face-to-face before we got to Columbus," Johnson said. "Everything just kind of clicked. We were both comfortable with each other and scared of everything else."

Bailer was headed to camp with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL but stopped in Columbus first.

"Brad wanted me to come see everything here," Bailer said. "My experience in South Carolina was a lot of fun. The caliber of hockey was very good and it was a very professional organization."

Last season's NHL lockout made it difficult for rookies to break into professional hockey. Bailer knew the odds weren't in his favor.

"I wasn't too disappointed," Bailer said. "With the lockout, I expected it."

There is no doubt where Bailer intends to report in three months.

"I'm coming straight to Columbus. It was too good an experience last season. I want to come there again," Bailer said.

Neither Johnson nor Bailer were familiar with Columbus before they arrived in town for camp. The professional game was also a new experience.

"We had a little deer-in-the-headlights look the first half of camp," Johnson said. "But I noticed the pride the older guys took in the organization and the city. It made me realize I was lucky to be where I was. There's a lot of tradition in Columbus."

Bailer and Johnson took advantage of a four-day Christmas break to make their first trip to Florida.

"Going all the way home was a lot of travel and my parents were coming down soon," Bailer said. "It was also pretty expensive. So we went to Jacksonville for the Jaguars-New England Patriots game. It was my first NFL game."

Johnson was one of only three Cottonmouths to play in all 56 regular season games, plus two playoff contests. He contributed four assists, but failed to score a goal. He hopes to change that this season.

"My number one priority is always my defensive play," Johnson said. "I want to be more comfortable with the first pass. I'd like to put the puck in the net at least once, during the regular season, not just exhibition. "

Johnson hopes to see more ice time and be more effective on special teams.

"Toward the end of the season I spent a little time on the power play," Johnson said.

"I'm happy to be out first on the penalty kill, but if I get the opportunity to go out on the power play, it's a bonus. I'll make the most of it."

Bailer, who contributed three goals and five assists in his rookie campaign, doesn't have a specific area of his game he's targeted for improvement this season.

"There not one glaring weakness," Bailer said. "I'd like to be more physical. I'd like to play better defensively and be a better all-around player."

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