Team makes roster changes in search of improvement
By KATHY GIERER
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
The Columbus Cottonmouths launched the second half of their 10th SPHL season on Friday night seeking consistency in all aspects of the game.
If the playoffs started now, the Snakes would be sitting at home.
Currently, the Cottonmouths are ninth among the league's 10 teams, with the top eight making the playoffs. Their 24 points at the season's halfway mark are tied with the 2010-2011 club for the lowest of their SPHL tenure.
The roster looks very different as the Snakes begin the second half. Rookie goaltender Travis Bosch is on loan for the weekend to Denver of the Central Hockey League.
Assistant coach John Bierchen will serve as emergency backup goaltender in Fayetteville on Friday and Monday nights.
After being waived by South Carolina (ECHL), Steve Mele was picked up by Utah (ECHL) and is headed there. Preston Shupe was signed to a second three-game contract.
A familiar face will wear a Snakes sweater at home against the FireAntz today as Ian Vigier serves as emergency backup to Andrew Loewen. Vigier retired at the end of last season after six seasons with the team.
The offense continued its roller coaster ride of inconsistency, typified by last weekend's performance.
The Cottonmouths posted a thrilling 6-5 come-from-behind win on Friday night in Knoxville. It was their first victory of the season over the Ice Bears after six losses. The Snakes fought back from a 4-1 deficit.
The following night in Huntsville, the Cottonmouths dropped a 3-2 decision to the Havoc after being shut out for the first two periods.
The only two goals came in the first and last minute of the period. Mike Switzer scored at the 46-second mark of the third and Neilsson Arcibal scored with an extra attacker on for the Snakes with 43 seconds remaining.
The defense is finally healthy and gelling as a unit. Switzer spent 30 days on the shelf and captain Kyle Johnson sat out four games due to illness.
"At the beginning, we were trying to find the right pairings and the right chemistry," veteran defenseman Tom Maldonado said. "Finally we all feel comfortable with our partners. We enjoy who we're playing with now."
When the defensive corps is at full strength, Maldonado and Switzer are paired together, as are Johnson and Jason Gray, along with Chris Bailer and Andy Willigar.
Center Sam Bowles came
out of retirement on Jan. 2 after Mele was loaned to South Carolina of the ECHL.
Bowles has already chipped in six points in four games played, including a four-point game against Knoxville.
"The win over Knoxville was really important," Bowles said.
"Columbus and Knoxville have a rich history, so there's always extra incentive to beat them.
"To be 0-6 against any team isn't good, but when it's your main rival, you take it personally."
Mele departed for the ECHL after scoring 17 points in 10 games with the Snakes. Mele scored in eight of his 10 games played and had four multi-point games.
Bowles said the team must not panic despite losing Mele's offensive production.
"We need to stick to the basics, stick to what works," Bowles said.
"When you try to change a whole lot, you run into problems.
"We need to concentrate on doing the little things right and have confidence that it will come."
Bowles believes the Snakes have the talent offensively to make a move up the SPHL standings.
"If you looked at our forward lines last weekend, it would be tough to say which is the top line and which is the third line," Bowles said.
"It's a matter of getting it to come together. If you look at the championship year, we weren't sitting pretty at this point in the season. Everything just clicked."
The Snakes' goaltenders have also struggled with inconsistency and have been affected by a lack of support offensively.
Bosch is the league's 12th best goalie with a goals-against average of 3.06 and a save percentage of .901. Andrew Loewen (3.33, .895) is in the 16th spot.
Bosch sports a 4-6-1 record. In the four victories, the Snakes scored a total of 19 goals.
In his six losses, his teammates scored 11.
Loewen is 7-8-1, but has won six of his last eight contests.
The Cottonmouths scored a minimum of four goals in each of Loewen's wins and fewer than three goals in seven of his eight losses.