Snakes' Kyle Johnson named team captain

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerNovember 28, 2013 

Columbus Cottonmouths defenseman Kyle Johnson headed to training camp eager start his second professional season and hoping to contribute to his team's success.

During the second week of camp, Johnson was named team captain.

Johnson, 25, was surprised when Bechard gave him the news.

"I was blown away," Johnson said. "I worked hard all summer, wanting to be sure I'd make the team. All I wanted to do was come back and do my part to make the team better. It's a tremendous honor. I learned so much from Ian Vigier, Orrin Hergott and Sam Bowles. They helped me become a pro. I want to keep that same culture going and help the new guys."

Johnson, Levi Lind and veteran Tom Maldonado serve as the team's leadership group.

"I don't want to be a leader who is constantly talking," Johnson said. "I want to just do my job and have that say enough. I look up to Tom and Levi. I ask them for advice. Tom is a vocal leader. He's got the right answers. I respect his opinion."

The Snakes entered their three-game Thanksgiving weekend looking for answers.

In the last five games, the inconsistent Cottonmouths have captured only three points out of a possible 10. They've suffered both offensive droughts and defensive lapses. Before addressing specific areas of concern, Johnson believes the team has an even more urgent problem.

"We need to figure out how to play consistently for a full 60 minutes," Johnson said. "We need to not get too high or too low. We need to establish our identity as playing in-your-face hockey no matter what the score."

Last weekend's home-and-home series with Fayetteville illustrates Johnson's point. On Friday night at home, the Snakes took a 2-0 lead and played well in spots, but allowed the FireAntz to come back and tie the game with only 23 seconds left in the third period. The Cottonmouths prevailed in a shootout in game one and headed to Fayetteville on Saturday.

The Cottonmouths were outshot 43-27 and shut out 3-0 by the Antz in game two of the series.

"Saturday was a perfect example of our not finding our identity," Johnson said. We were not supporting each other out there. We've had a good week of practice and we'll be ready to go this weekend."

The Snakes have scored 34 goals in 11 games, tied for fifth in the SPHL. Matt Gingera and Jordan Braid, the team's top two scorers last season, lead the way with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Also near the point-per-game mark are Lind and Dan Bremner (9), along with Jordan Draper and rookie Tory Allan (8).

"I don't think our problem this season will be scoring goals," Johnson said. "We only need three goals to win a game. Four would be nice, but we only need three."

The Snakes have scored three or more goals in five of their 11 games played and won four of the five.

Johnson believes the main problem lies with the defensive corps.

"Our problem is team defense," Johnson said. "Defensively we have to step it up."

The defense has faced a series of challenges since training camp ended. The release of Kevin Kessler, one of team's leaders, shook up the squad. He was replaced by newcomer Mike Switzer. Switzer was paired with Maldonado and quickly became a defensive leader.

But Switzer suffered a knee injury and was placed on the 30-day injured-reserve list. At the same time, second-year defenseman Chris Bailer sat out three games with a mild concussion.

"It was bad enough that Mike went down," Johnson said. "But when Chris got hurt at the same time, it was the worst of luck. Both of them are such a presence out there."

Johnson noted a touch of irony in Bailer's injury, which occurred on a freak play in practice.

"He collided with me," Johnson said. "I had a full head of steam and his head was down. I felt terrible. He's my best friend and roommate."

Bailer returned on Friday. Daniel Amesbury has been the sixth man on the blue line in Switzer's absence.

Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard released rookie forward Jordan Zalba on Tuesday and signed forward Tyler Gjurich, who played two games this season for San Francisco (ECHL). Bechard also resigned Alex Gallant, who was waived after completing a three-game suspension.

The Snakes' holiday weekend includes trips to Fayetteville on Saturday and a home game today against the Mississippi RiverKings.

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