Dan Bremner and Mike Switzer were familiar with the Southern Professional Hockey league when they reported to Columbus Cottonmouths training camp in mid-October.
Bremner is playing his third SPHL season and Switzer his second.
Bremner was left unprotected by Knoxville after playing two seasons for the Ice Bears. He says he bears little ill will toward the Knoxville organization.
"I had a good relationship with the coach (Mike Craigen) and the organization," Bremner said. "I was left unprotected, but it wasn't a slap in the face. The one thing that stung is how late the decision was made. I thought all summer that I was coming back to Knoxville."
Bremner stood at a crossroads after receiving the news from Craigen. It was weeks before training camp opened and the league's coaches were already assembling their rosters.
"At first, I thought about not playing," Bremner said. "I talked to Emery Olauson, who retired last year from Knoxville. He told me that if I was not ready to quit, not to let anybody dictate that for me."
Bremner made contact with Snakes coach Jerome Bechard, as well as coaches from Peoria, Pensacola and the Mississippi Surge. Though no hard feelings linger, it's been challenging for Bremner to face his former teammates.
"I have friends on that team," Bremner said. "It's weird playing against guys I've played with. We've lost to them six times, so frustrations are boiling over."
Switzer played his first professional season in Augusta. It was a solid learning experience for Switzer, one which ended when the RiverHawks went dark this season.
"I learned a lot in my first year," Switzer said. "Because of the (NHL) lockout, there was a lot of player movement. I played with 50 different players. I just had to
keep doing what made me successful. I learned what it means to be a pro. It was tough because you make friends with guys and they come and go. But, if it's you or them, you do what you need to do."
Switzer and his teammates knew that the Augusta team was in trouble near the end of last season.
"Once the rink broke down and we had to finish the season in a practice rink, we knew it was a possibility," Switzer said. "It was going to take a lot of money to fix it. Putting that amount of money to fix it wasn't worth it. We didn't want to go out on the free market, but we didn't have a choice."
Switzer contacted a man in Calgary who acted as an agent in providing a service for players to locate teams. It turned out he knew (Columbus assistant coach) Brad Prefontaine. Jerome and Brad knew a little about me since I'd played against them last year."
Bremner has played in all 24 games for the Snakes this season, tallying five goals and nine assists. Until Steve Mele was loaned to South Carolina (ECHL) earlier this week, Bremner was on the top scoring line with Mele and leading scorer Matt Gingera.
"Matt is one of the top talents in the league," Bremner said. "He's highly skilled and very unselfish. We play similar styles. Steve has more of an offensive upside."
Bremner's role is that of a grinder. He opens up space to allow Gingera and his other linemate to find the net. Bremner's points usually come from the crease as he doesn't hesitate to crash the net.
Switzer has appeared in only 13 games. He spent 30 days on the shelf after suffering a knee injury on a routine play.
"I thought it was just a stinger," Switzer said. "I went to the bench and played my next shift, but it felt loose. The doc looked at it and said no go."
Switzer is paired with the Snakes' only veteran, Tom Maldonado. They're regaining their timing and rhythm since Switzer returned on Dec. 20.
"We found a really good chemistry right away," Switzer said. "We know what each other is thinking and what he's going to do."
The Snakes return home for a weekend series with SPHL newcomers, the Bloomington Thunder. It will be the Thunder's first visit to the Columbus Civic Center.
The Cottonmouths won the only two meetings of the season between the two teams, 5-4 and 5-0, in Bloomington on Nov. 8-9.
The Cottonmouths are 4-7-0 at home, tied with Bloomington for the worst home record in the league. The Cottonmouths have won at home twice in November and December, including two of their last three.
Game time today and Saturday is 7:30 p.m.