Andrew Loewen returns as Columbus Cottonmouths' No. 1 goalie

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerAugust 24, 2013 

Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Columbus goaltender Andrew Loewen retrieves the puck from against the boards behind his net in the second period Saturday evening. 03/30/13

MIKE HASKEY

In the past, Columbus Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard declared that his team boasted two No. 1 goaltenders and divided their playing time evenly.

Heading into the 2013-14 season, Andrew Loewen is the Snakes' undisputed top goalie.

Loewen is the first goaltender on the training camp roster.

Loewen is coming off a stellar season in which he shattered nine-year Southern Professional Hockey Leagues records in both save percentage (.945) and goals-against average (1.74). With the retirement of his friend and mentor, Ian Vigier, Loewen will see the roles reversed as he teaches a new goaltender about life in the SPHL.

"We pushed each other and supported each other," Loewen said. "Jerome coached us in a way that allowed us to have that kind of relationship. I wouldn't give up those three years for anything. I learned the ropes from Ian."

Loewen, 28, is entering his fourth professional season and coming off by far his best statistically. His previous best mark in save percentage (.909) came in his rookie season and in GAA (2.84) during his second season.

The decision to return was an easy one.

"It was not a difficult decision at all," Loewen said. "When you do something for 23 years of your life, then have your best year ever, it's hard to give it up. When you've reached your pinnacle, you want to go out and do it again."

Loewen's achievements earned him the runner-up spot in balloting for the SPHL's goaltender of the year though he turned in a dominant performance.

"Last year was a storybook season for me," Loewen said. "Though it is a team sport, everyone has personal goals they want to meet to succeed."

Though Loewen played three seasons with the Snakes, the team's brief postseason appearance marked his playoff debut. Vigier played in all 11 playoff contests over the previous two seasons, including the team's march to the President's Cup in April 2012.

The Snakes were swept in the 2013 playoffs, suffering a pair of 2-0 shutout losses to Knoxville. Loewen played in both games, posting a 2.51 GAA and .886 save percentage. Though the team's exit was quick, Loewen saw his first playoff experience in a positive light.

With the retirement of Vigier and co-captains Sam Bowles and Orrin Hergott, Loewen will be one of the more experienced players on the team. He is eager to embrace a leadership role, citing the example set by Bowles and former captain Will Barlow.

"I'm completely ready for that role," Loewen said. "My first year, Ian showed me the ropes. We were both mature and had both played a lot of hockey. I want to be there to help and support the new goalie and, hopefully, it will become another great relationship."

One of the roles of a team leader is to educate new players about the Cottonmouths' history.

"Part of leading is creating a championship culture," Loewen said. "Will and Sam were both talented captains and leaders. A lot of the leadership burden fell on Sam's shoulders. He is a very motivating, passionate leader. Will is very businesslike and focused on the individual. He decentralized leadership and always wanted to hear from other guys. He included everyone and practiced open, direct communication."

Loewen hopes to pull from both leadership styles.

"I would love to be able to speak in the locker room like Sam and connect to everybody like Will," Loewen said. "Having a young team, it will be up to the older players to help them become aware of the tradition that Columbus has, as well as the community focus. Our team has always been close-knit. We recruit good character guys and leaders."

Loewen and his wife, Morgan, have put down roots in the area. Morgan Loewen is an elementary school teacher and the Loewens became homeowners last year.

"We expect to be here another two or three years and then see where life takes us," he said. "The relationships we've fostered here are very important to Morgan and myself."

The rest of the roster so far includes defensemen Chris Bailer, Kyle Johnson and rookie Jason Gray. Forwards on board are Will Aide, Jordan Braid, Jordan Draper, Matt Gingera, Levi Lind, Jason Yuel and rookies Tory Allan and Jordan Zalba.

Training camp opens on Oct. 13. The Snakes launch their 10th SPHL season on Friday, Oct. 25, in Pensacola in the battle of the last two league champions. The Cottonmouths host Knoxville at the Columbus Civic Center in their home opener on Oct. 26.

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