Just as in last Saturday’s game at Peoria, the Columbus Cottonmouths replenished their roster for the weekend on Thursday with a mix of returning players and a few familiar veteran faces as well, resulting from the numerous players injured in the team bus crash on Jan. 19.
The Cottonmouths announced their 18-man roster in a press release Thursday afternoon, featuring 10 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders.
Not much has changed at forward from the last home games Columbus played on Jan. 15 and 16, with Andy Bathgate, Keegan Bruce, Derek Gingera, Alex Kromm, Evan Neugold, Ben O’Quinn, Craig Simchuk, and Jonathan Turk able to play this weekend when the Cottonmouths face Roanoke in a back-to-back weekend set Friday and Saturday night.
The two newcomers up front are familiar faces to Cottonmouths fans. Nick Curry, an Augusta native who played for the Snakes in 2014-15 and scored 29 points in 43 games, returns to play for Columbus this weekend. Curry began the season as assistant general manager of the team before pursuing other opportunities last month.
The second player has much more lineage to the Cottonmouths: veteran forward Craig Stahl, who was captain of the team during the first six seasons of the team’s existence in the SPHL from 2004 to 2010. He scored 149 points in 307 games while wearing the ‘C’ for the Cottonmouths. He also played for Columbus in the Cottonmouth franchise’s final season in the Central Hockey League in 2000-01, scoring 19 points in 67 games. Stahl’s No. 32 hangs beside head coach Jerome Bechard’s No. 16, newly named co-coach Orrin Hergott’s No. 11, and CHL star goaltender Frankie Ouellette’s No. 30 in the Civic Center rafters as the four numbers retired by the Snakes franchise.
“Obviously, Stahl was the captain of his team, so just to have that caliber of leadership in the locker room combined with his skill, it’ll really help settle down the guys and lead us where we need to be,” said Bechard.
On the blue line, defenseman Petr Senkerik is the only healthy Cottonmouth from the last time the Snakes touched home ice. He will be joined by newcomers Brandon Fehd and John Hubbard; David Watt, who has played parts of this season in both Columbus and Macon; and veterans Levi Lind and Tom Maldonado. Lind has played at least one game for the Cottonmouths each of the last eight seasons and was named to the SPHL all-rookie team in his first pro season in 2009-10, where he scored 52 points in 56 games. Maldonado finished his career in Columbus after playing parts of his first three professional seasons in the Central Hockey League and overseas, scoring 28 or more points from the blue line each of his last three full seasons with the Cottonmouths.
“Levi’s already played one game for us this year,” Bechard said. “He’s very qualified, skates well, can play D or forward, and again, he’s a leader.
“Tommy’s a skilled defenseman who moves the puck really well. With his experience, he’ll also be able to come in solidify the blue line.”
Even though the three may not have skated in a game situation this season, Bechard has no doubt their veteran presence will make up for any catching up they may have to do on the ice.
“They know our systems,” he said. “They know for the most part what we’re doing, and they know the game well enough to make the plays they need to, keep it simple, and have everything moving the right way. We might have tweaked a couple of things here and there, but they know what we’re running.
“It’s their leadership they have that we need to coincide with the leadership we already have in the locker room with Simchuk, Bathgate, O’Quinn, and the others who are ready for play.”
As for the players who remain injured, Bechard hopes to slowly but surely insert them back into the lineup once they fully recuperate.
“The guys who are out are pretty much day to day or week to week,” Bechard said. “We’re hoping by next week that I’ll have another three or four able to play.”
The exception to the rule, however, is goaltender Brandon Jaeger, who suffered the most serious injuries of all Cottonmouths players. Jaeger will likely be put on the season-ending injured reserve list but is resting comfortably at home with his family in Minnesota, Bechard said.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. for both meetings with the Rail Yard Dawgs this weekend.