The newest member of the Columbus Cottonmouths’ training camp, forward Riley Spraggs, had an interesting route to his first SPHL game Saturday night, an exhibition tilt against Pensacola at the Ice Rink.
Spraggs started his career in junior hockey in British Columbia, then played collegiately in the hockey hotbed of Edmond, Okla., for ACHA member Central Oklahoma.
“I started looking for some competitive hockey, and the best route was to go into the ACHA and finish my degree,” Spragge said. “I had a lot of fun there.”
After two years at Central Oklahoma, where he scored a combined 40 goals and 28 assists in two seasons there, he transferred to Lindenwood University in St. Louis.
“We won the nationals last year in my senior year,” Spraggs said. “It was a great way to finish out my collegiate career.”
At Lindenwood, Spraggs became more of a defensive-minded playerunder the tutelage of the coaching staff there.
“The coach really pushed me to be a two-way player, play in my own end first, and really work hard in the defensive zone,” Spraggs said. “It really changed me as a player. I can play defense, wing, center, it doesn’t really matter. I like getting into corners and battle.”
Spraggs started this season in camp with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles, an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche. It was a tumultuous camp as far as the roster was concerned, with players coming down from the NHL and higher-level American Hockey League almost daily.
“Basically, you were looking at the Avalanche and seeing how the trickle-down effect happens,” Spraggs said. “You kind of try not to worry about it, but it’s always in the back of your mind. At the same time, I wanted to do the best I could while I was there and make the most of the opportunity.”
Spraggs was one of the last cuts by the Eagles prior to their final roster, and like with so many other players to don Cottonmouth sweaters, the Snakes connection went to work. This time, it was former Cottonmouth forward Riley Nelson, now in the front office with Colorado, who tipped off Snakes head coach Jerome Bechard.
“I was actually calling about a different player,” Bechard said. “Riley said there’s a guy in camp where we didn’t expect much of him, but he was one of their last cuts and he was really dangling some ECHL-caliber defensemen with some experience. He made them look silly once in a while. I really wasn’t looking for a forward, but at the same time, I’d be crazy not to get him down here and take a look.”
“The (Eagles’) coach thought it was better for me to come down and get some games in the SPHL since it’s my first year,” Spraggs said. “It was a great experience, and I’m glad it led to me coming here.”
On Saturday, he flew to Georgia, and skated that night in the Cottonmouths’ 3-1 exhibition loss to the Ice Flyers.
“It was good hockey,” Spraggs said. “It was really fast. There were a lot of big guys in Pensacola and it was a physical game, which is always a lot of fun to be a part of. I was trying to be around the puck as much as I can; I like to score goals, and you can’t do it without the puck.”
“He’s very gifted,” Bechard said. “He’s nifty with the puck. On Saturday night, he just flew in and had some travel legs. He showed bursts of speed and some good play. I’d like to think once he’s rested and in game shape, he’s could be a pretty special player.
“Knowing he can play a little bit of defense as well, he can help out on the power play on the back end or even 5-on-5 if we get short.”
Heading into the final four days of camp prior to the season opener at Macon Friday night, the Cottonmouths have 18 players on the roster. While Bechard isn’t standing pat by any means, he says he would go to battle with the complement of players he currently has.
“There’s a chance I could have another guy or two coming in mid-week,” he said. “Whether or not they’d be ready to play this weekend, I’m not 100% sure. I think training camp might evolve into the first week of November to give everyone a good look and make sure I’m not missing anything with what I have here. If the guys do come in, we need to find some time, get them acclimated with what we’re doing, and get them into some games.
“We’ll know more Wednesday if that will come to fruition, but it’s one day at a time.”