The Columbus Cottonmouths hit the ice for their ninth training camp Monday morning at 10 with a slight variation of their usual mission.
This year, the Snakes aim to repeat as Southern Professional Hockey League champions.
Winning back-to-back crowns is a challenge, but the team returns a large core group from the squad that raised the cup April 14 in Pensacola.
Both goaltenders return as does half of a solid defensive corps. Ian Vigier, the league's goalie of the year and playoff MVP, is back along with his goaltending partner, Andrew Loewen. Gone from the blue line are captain Will Barlow, Andrew Krelove and Dave Cianfrini, but the Snakes have veteran Tom Maldonado, Kevin Kessler and Bret Tyler back on defense.
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A key element of the Snakes' offensive success a year ago has traded in his skates for a stethoscope. Greg Beller enrolled in medical school, so Derek Pallardy and veteran Orrin Hergott are searching for a linemate to attempt to replace him.
Hergott reports to his ninth Snakes training camp as the longest tenured player in the SPHL. Other forwards on board are Sam Bowles and veteran Brett Hammond. Jim Durham, who joined the team for the playoffs, will participate in his first camp. Levi Lind and John Sullivan are also back, while enforcer Daniel Amesbury reports for his first full season.
Gone are grinders Mitch Wall and Pete MacDougall, the latter trading in his Snakes sweater for an official's whistle.
The NHL lockout has affected the Snakes in one positive way. Last season's leading scorer on the team, Jordan Braid, went to camp in the East Coast Hockey League but already has returned. There is a glut of players scrambling for jobs at the higher levels because of the approximate 700 unemployed NHL players. Also back already from ECHL camps are Lind and newcomers Nikita Poliakov and Ivan Lyaskevich.
Other new faces include forward Adam Kuhn, who played last season for Pensacola but was left unprotected. Rookie forward Jason Yuel is in camp, along with rookie defensemen Kyle Johnson, Chris Bailer and Tom Fitzgerald.
Three players from the Snakes' first free-agent camp were invited to attend training camp. They are, forwards Evan MacIntosh and Liam Tully and defenseman Andrew Adams.
MacIntosh and Adams have Division III experience, and Tully played eight games for Vermont of the Federal Hockey League last season.
There are 24 players on board with more expected from higher camps. The final roster will include two goalies, six defensemen and 10 forwards.
The Snakes play a pair of exhibition games this weekend. Friday night, the Augusta RiverHawks come to town, followed by the Pensacola Ice Flyers on Saturday night. Both games will be played at the Columbus Ice Rink. Game time is 7:30.
The Snakes drop the puck on the regular season Oct. 26 at home against Pensacola. Opening night festivities include raising the championship banner and the ring ceremony.