Columbus Cottonmouths veteran defenseman Tom Maldonado reluctantly announced his retirement to a gathering of the team's faithful fans last April.
The good news for the Snakes blue line is that Maldonado experienced a change of heart.
"In April, I believed 100 percent that I was done with hockey," Maldonado said. "It was not because I didn't want to play, but when you get to ages 27-30, there comes a time when you start thinking about life after hockey."
Maldonado launched a search for post-hockey options, but nothing was a precise fit.
"I pursued three different options over the summer, and I've found an option that will give me the opportunity to play," Maldonado said.
"Some guys stop because their bodies can't handle it, but I planned to stop because I wanted to think ahead for the future. Now I will be able to pursue future opportunities and play."
Maldonado's return solidifies the blue line, which now has four returning members but suffered a key loss. Three-year pro Kevin Kessler is back as well as Chris Bailer and Kyle Johnson, who return for a second season.
Gone is Maldonado's mirror image and co-quarterback of the power play, Bret Tyler. Maldonado and Tyler are offensive-minded, steady and very experienced defensemen. The duo combined for 177 points over the past three seasons.
Maldonado is currently the only veteran on the training camp roster. It's possible that coach Jerome Bechard will add another veteran before camp opens on Oct. 13, but right now Maldonado is the team's most experienced player, with 275 pro games under his belt.
One of Maldonado's duties will be to fill the leadership void caused by the retirement of Ian Vigier, Orrin Hergott, Sam Bowles and Derek Pallardy, who played a combined 22 Snakes seasons.
"It's unfortunate and we're really going to miss those guys," Maldonado said. "But we have a lot of leadership still around. We have Kevin Kessler, Andrew Loewen, Levi Lind and Jordan Braid. Plus we have emerging leaders in all the second-year guys."
Maldonado reflected on last season's early playoff exit which he and many older players took especially hard.
"We were disappointed in not repeating as back-to-back champions," Maldonado said. "In my case, I thought I was done and others knew they were done. We deserved a better result."
Maldonado reflected on the need of a competitive training camp in which players had to literally scrap for spots on the team.
"It's very important," Maldonado said. "The championship year we had one of the more competitive camps I've been at in six years.
"One of my good friends, John Sullivan, and I almost got into a fist fight the first day of camp. If you bring the right mentality to this camp, you have a good chance of being successful."
Missing from the Snakes training camp roster is Pallardy, who accepted a job in his native St. Louis. Pallardy and Hergott retired with two SPHL championship rings each. Hergott won both titles with the Snakes, while Pallardy won one with Knoxville in 2008-2009 and the other with the Cottonmouths on April 14, 2012.
Pallardy arrived in Columbus right before opening night two years ago. He came here at the urging of former Missouri Mavericks (CHL) teammates Brett Hammond, Tyler, Bowles and Maldonado. In addition to raising the President's Cup, the move paid personal dividends as well.
"It was definitely a great decision," Pallardy said. "It's a great organization. It's a place where players don't come just to spend a year. They buy into the system and the culture of the Cottonmouths and stay here a long time. One of the best things to happen to me here was meeting my future wife, Madie. We're getting married next summer."
Pallardy is excited about getting back home and working in the rink in which he grew up. The Northern Edge Hockey Academy provides hockey instruction in the early mornings, evenings and after school to young players.
Pallardy will take over a lot of the on-ice work.
"I'll be coaching kids an extra hour or so each week and will help kids enjoy hockey as well as attain goals they set for themselves. Three or four coaches will work with a group of kids. One other guy and I will be leading the instruction," Pallardy said.
The Snakes open their 10th SPHL season on the road in Pensacola Friday, Oct. 25 against the defending champion Ice Flyers. The home opener is Saturday, Oct. 26, against Knoxville. Game time is 7:30 p.m.