In early December, Columbus Cottonmouths forward Steve Mele was moping at home in the Bronx, searching for a place to play hockey.
A week later, Mele was the SPHL player of the week.
Mele and college teammate Neilsson Arcibal have happily landed in Columbus. The duo graduated a year apart from American International College in Springfield, Mass. Arcibal obtained an accounting degree in 2012 and Mele one in business management last spring.
Searching for a place to play professionally led Arcibal to the Sweden and the Central Hockey League and Mele to Greenville (ECHL).
"I was going to Greenville again but then they double affiliated (with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers)," Mele said. "The day before I was supposed to leave for camp, they said don't come. They told me to come in November. I went there for a week, practiced, but never got in a game. So I went home."
Arcibal played four games this season for St. Charles (CHL) as a defenseman before being waived.
The pair then had a brainstorm.
"We have the same agent, Jeff Boston," Mele said. "We thought why not go somewhere together. He called and said Columbus wants both of you. He told us it was a good place to go."
The call came at the right time for Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard. His offense was struggling, scoring only four goals in the previous four games, and being shut out once.
"I'm glad he called," Bechard laughed. "It's worked out pretty darn well. I really didn't have any expectations. Both were righthanded shots, which we needed. Both played Division 1 hockey, so I figured they were able to skate. Hard work pays off and they both work hard."
Mele and Arcibal reported to Columbus for practice on Dec. 6 and played in Knoxville the following night. As Mele tried to work his way into playing shape, Arcibal made an immediate impact, scoring the only Snakes goal in a 3-1 loss.
Mele exploded in Louisiana the following Thursday against the first-place IceGators, as the Snakes brought home an 8-6 victory. Mele scored four goals and added
one assist, including a pair of power play goals, tying this season's high in goals and points in the SPHL. Arcibal scored a shorthanded goal against the Gators.
After his first exposure to SPHL hockey in Knoxville's small rink, Mele liked Louisiana's arena.
"I love the bigger ice," Mele said. "I like having time and space. The team reacted better, too. We scored eight goals that night."
Everything came crashing down the following night at home. The Snakes were shut out 4-0 by Knoxville, the Ice Bears' fifth straight win over the Snakes this season and seventh overall.
Mele and Arcibal agree that it was a tough night for their new team, but disagree as to the reason.
"Friday night caught up with us," Arcibal said. "We spent about 25 hours on the bus."
Mele thought that the rash of penalties severely prevented the Snakes from getting into any kind of rhythm. Knoxville had 10 power plays and the Snakes eight.
"Knoxville knows how to play us," Mele said. "(Bryan) Hince is very good. Penalties affected the flow of the game. It had no flow."
Mele's offensive barrage continued in Huntsville on Saturday. He scored a goal and chipped in three assists. After four games, Mele has scored five goals and four assists and Arcibal has contributed two goals.
Mele's older brother, Tom, plays for Alaska (ECHL).
"I've been talking to my brother," Mele said. "I told him I'm never leaving here."
The college roommates are now professional ones. Both are discovering Columbus and life in the SPHL.
"I thought Jeff meant Columbus, Ohio," Mele laughed. "I was going to take off and drive. Then he said Georgia, so I thought I can't drive there. It's beautiful here. The fans and owners are great. It's a good group of guys."
Arcibal, a California native, likes the weather.
"It's like San Diego," Arcibal said. "I don't like snow. The crowds in the SPHL are nice too. They're better than in the CHL."
Mele is currently on a line with Matt Gingera and Dan Bremner, a change made during the Huntsville game. Arcibal is with Levi Lind and Jordan Draper.
Mele is concentrating on working his way into game shape, a process he believes will take 3-4 weeks. In the meantime, he'll try to recapture the magic he experienced in Louisiana.
"I felt really good that night," Mele said. "I got an assist and then a goal. Literally, everything I shot went in."
The Snakes are in the middle of another three-game weekend, with a home-and-home series against the Mississippi Surge concluding Saturday night in the Snake Pit. A Sunday matinee against Louisiana wraps up the weekend's action.