Just sent my final story on the 2011-2012 SPHL Champion Columbus Cottonmouths.
Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?
Hate it if you missed Tuesday night's celebration. It was a terrific, large group of fans who came to greet their heroes and buy a truckload of championship "stuff"...shirts, photos, hats etc.
Several memories I'll take from that night. First of all is the joy. The fans, coaches, players. If you look at the photos a number of folks have posted on facebook, you'll see the guys' achievement all in their smiles. Sharing that moment with you, the fans, is the ultimate.
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There is a sense of sadness even in this kind of celebration. There's no way all 20 guys wear the Snakes logo on their chests in October. It's a fact of life, a rite of passage. In the ultimate irony, winning a championship will make some of the guys' decisions easier.
I said to Sam Bowles more than a month ago that I thought if they won the Cup, this team could be barely recognizable next year. Sam, with a great poker face, replied that he just wanted to play an injury-free year!! A commendable goal, Sammy.
Not naming names of those wrestling with life decisions, but if you're a loyal fan, it's not hard to guess a few of them. Two of the guys started their families during the season, a couple are engaged and several will be receiving their MBAs after this semester at CSU. Others are at a crossroads...hockey or real life? No matter how much they love the sport, the world beckons at some point. How great would it be to go out on top?
Some of the guys will undoubtedly play at a higher level. Take Andrew Krelove, for example. It would be awesome to have him back at the Pit, but surely he'll get a look from the ECHL.
Greg Beller will either be wearing a stethoscope or playing way up the hockey ladder next year. Greg told me that if he gets accepted into med school, he's going. How fortunate that he came our way? No way to tell what Brad Ralph was thinking, but Snakes fans sure appreciate Augusta cutting him loose!
Two key members of the Snakes family won't be returning. Trainer Hannah Peterson is also working on her Masters at CSU, so she plans on concentrating on that next fall. Four wonderful years with the Snakes. Thanks, Hannah!!
Many of you know Everett Duke and all of you know Boomer. This young man is my son's close friend. We've known Ev since he was a high school student and now he's about to earn a Masters degree from Auburn. Unbelievable. An emotional night for Ev in raising the Cup and for Boomer to celebrate with the team. Best of luck to Ev in his job hunting. As far as the team finding another Boomer? Sure, somebody else will become the big, blue furry guy, but there will never be another quite like Ev. Thanks so much, Everett Duke and Boomer!!!
As I gathered my final thoughts on this amazing season, I realized that there was one person who didn't get my attention late in the season as he should have, not for what he did, but for what he didn't do.
Jerome Bechard has always ridden the goalie with the hot hand into the playoffs. Going all the way back to 2004-2005, Chad Rycroft built up a head of steam in late February and didn't quit until he raised the Cup on April Fools Day. :) Terry Friesen was healthy by then, but Chad got the nod from Feb. 22 until April 1.
This season, Jerome had a tough decision to make in game 2 vs LA. Does he go back to his goalie rotation or put the saddle on Ian Vigier? He chose the latter. We all know that this decision produced a President's Cup. Ian was series MVP and turned in as good a performance as I've ever seen.
From that moment on, I never heard Andrew Loewen complain. I never saw him with anything but his trademark grin on his face. He could have pouted, whined and moaned, but he didn't.
Andrew reminds me of my grand dog Jaxon, except that he doesn't eat pine straw, as far as I know.
Jaxon is nine-month old lab puppy with an unbridled enthusiasm for life and the dog equivalent of a constant smile. He's always leaping around, the very poster dog for pure joy.
Now look at Andrew. A fan favorite and above average dancer, especially with owner Wanda Amos, Andrew can hardly contain his enthusiasm for life and his team. He is a true professional and I admire the way he and Brett Hammond handled the personal disappointment of the playoffs, putting it aside for the good of the team.
Andrew also has a sense of humor. When I was at the rink to interview Greg and do the player assessments with Jerome and Brad, Andrew poked his head in the coach's office and told me he was going to shower and he'd be ready for his interview soon.
Now, I'm pretty much in my permanently frazzled playoff mode. I thought: oh, NO. I asked Andrew for an interview? What in the world am I going to ask him? So, how do you like the view from the bench? A split second later, Andrew breaks out in one of his patented grins. Gotcha, Kathy! hahaha
So many good times, so many friends I'll miss. Of course, the players and I develop a good working relationship. They're patient and kind and always accessible. Jerome is a dream to work with, as is Brad.
My pals at the rink, Miss Flit and Joe, Mary Beth and Harlan Hendricks, Sarah and Nathan. I'll miss our fun at the rink. But Mary Beth's office is next door to mine at CSU and we'll be celebrating sweet Sarah's graduation soon, so I'll still see the Hendricks family. Miss Flit and I are planning lunch soon.
My pal Paul Ezell has perfected his duties as my timekeeper. I walk down the steps and get his first report, then frequent updates depending on how stressed I am and what obstacles are keeping me from getting my interviews in a timely manner. Thanks, Paul.
My loyal assistant Kevin Mills has now been given a promotion to playoff travel companion, bodyguard and confidant. Thanks, Kevin!
I appreciate the off-ice officials in Columbus. They don't leave there without making sure I have a copy of the final scoresheet. Thanks, guys!!
Thanks to all of my loyal readers. I appreciate your coming up and introducing yourselves. Love putting names and faces together. :)
Time to close the curtain on another season. I can finally say it...my favorite of the 8 in which I've been privileged to cover this team.
Time for a break, but check back to see news about the players. As soon as I hear it, you'll have it.