After bouncing around hockey's upper levels to start the season, Columbus center Preston Shupe was back in his native Saskatchewan.
Shupe weighed his options and realized his playing career wasn't finished.
Shupe was a hockey nomad beginning in training camp.
"At the start of the year, I was in camp with Oklahoma City (AHL)," Shupe said. "Then I drove to Bakersfield (ECHL) and Tulsa (CHL). After I left there, I was ready to move on and figure out what to do next. I was interested in going to Europe for the rest of the year, but that didn't work out. I was back home playing senior hockey."
In the meantime, Shupe kept in touch with Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard. The two connected through the Canisius College branch of the hockey network. Shupe played his first season at the Buffalo college with Snakes goaltender Andrew Loewen and former Cottonmouths Pete MacDougall and Dave Cianfrini.
"I'd been talking to Jerome, and he said he'd love to have me down there," Shupe said. "I called and asked if he still wanted me. He said he did, so I flew down there."
Shupe arrived in town at 4 a.m. on Jan. 4.
"I hadn't been on the ice for a while," Shupe said. "I didn't think I'd play that night, but somebody had just gotten hurt and Jerome asked if I would play. I just had a few hours sleep, but I played that night. I didn't score, but hit a post in my first game."
Shupe arrived when the Snakes roster was in transition. Steve Mele left for South Carolina (ECHL), Shupe and Sam Bowles arrived and Jordan Braid was traded to Louisiana, all within a week.
The day after his debut, Shupe was placed on a line with Neilsson Arcibal and Tory Allan. The trio has become one of the team's most prolific scoring lines.
"We have really good chemistry and complement each other well," Shupe said. "Both of them have great speed and are good on the boards. I'm in the middle and I slow the game down for them when we need to. I'm pretty good around the net, and I'm their protector."
One part of the line's game that struggled early was its production on the power play.
"We were doing pretty well five-on-five but couldn't score on the power play," Shupe said. "The power play is going to be huge down the stretch and in the playoffs. If you win special teams, you win the game."
Entering Thursday night's game in Biloxi, the Arcibal-Shupe-Allan line has chipped in a total of 82 points, 35 goals and 47 assists. Of that total, nine goals and 13 assists have come on the power play. Shupe has contributed 21 points in 19 games played, nine goals and 12 assists. Two of Shupe's goals came on the power play, as well as three assists.
Shupe has enjoyed his experience in Columbus and his rookie season has been rewarding.
"I've had great opportunities on the power play and penalty kill," Shupe said. "I like being a go-to guy and it's fun when our line can help and I can chip in. I'd heard so many good things about Jerome. My hometown (Weyburn, Saskatchewan) is only about 45 minutes away from his hometown of Regina. Everybody knows him and kept saying I ought to go down there."
Eight of the Southern Professional Hockey League's 10 teams enter postseason play. The Snakes, who went into Thursday night's game occupying the eighth and final playoff slot, had 41 points, three points ahead of ninth-place Fayetteville and five ahead of last-place Bloomington (36).
The Cottonmouths trailed seventh-place Knoxville by three and sixth-place Mississippi Surge by five.
The Snakes have three games remaining against the Surge, two against Bloomington and one each against Fayetteville and Knoxville.
The Snakes host the Surge on Friday night and the Mississippi RiverKings on Saturday.