The Columbus Cottonmouths are in ninth place among the Southern Professional Hockey League teams as the midpoint of the 56-game season approaches.
The team made a dramatic move Tuesday.
Center Jordan Braid was traded to the Louisiana IceGators for cash. Braid, 24, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, had been a Cottonmouth for three seasons, in addition to playing in 26 games this year. He was the team's leading scorer in 2011-2012 and a key member of the President's Cup championship team.
Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard was dealing with a numbers crunch on a team that has struggled offensively all season. The Snakes have been on an offensive roller coaster, with Braid one example of that inconsistency.
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Braid had been held scoreless in his last six games. His last point came on Dec. 21 against the Mississippi Surge. He had tallied at least one point in only 11 of the team's 26 games.
The championship season was Braid's most productive. He contributed 52 points in 55 games and added a goal and two assists in six playoff games. Last year he had 42 points in 52 games played, and this season dropped to 16 points (seven goals and nine assists) in 26 games.
The Snakes now have 18 players on the roster, including Sam Bowles and Preston Shupe, who are on three-game contracts. Steve Mele is on loan to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and his return date is uncertain.
It was a difficult decision, Bechard said.
"We'd been talking and taking a look at who we have and who we have coming back," Bechard said. "We kept coming back to Jordan. I wanted to be up front and honest with him. I wanted to talk to him sooner, rather than later. I think he was a little upset, but not too bad. He saw where I was coming from and we agreed to try and put something together. We won a championship together and Jordan deserves honesty."
Bowles will finish his three-game contract Friday night in Knoxville and Shupe concludes his on Saturday in Huntsville. Then Bechard will have further decisions to make. He has seven three-game contracts remaining out of his allotted 10. He could sign Shupe and Bowles to an additional three-game contract or a standard contract.
Bowles retired after last season to enter the business world. He has yet to determine whether or not he can juggle hockey and work responsibilities, including practice, games and travel.
Mele left for South Carolina on Dec. 30. South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery is juggling his roster to accommodate call-ups by Providence (AHL) and the Boston Bruins. Joining Mele on the Stingrays roster are Luke Greiner (Mississippi Surge) and Paul Rodrigues (Pensacola).
"I talked to Spencer this afternoon," Bechard said. "Boston is getting some guys back in their lineup, which will mean guys will be sent to Providence. Then he has to look at Mele and the other guys from our league and see who he's going to keep."
Bechard is still weighing his options.
"From what little I saw, I think Shupe will be a pretty good player," Bechard said. "We're not sure when we'll get Mele back.
"As far as Sam is concerned, I have a feeling it's going to work out that he can do both."