One of the key qualities displayed by the Southern Professional Hockey League’s 2011-2012 champions was consistency.
The Columbus Cottonmouths continued preparation for their title defense by signing a pair of their most consistent players on Tuesday.
Tom Maldonado and Bret Tyler, two offensive-minded defensemen and key components of the team’s power play, will report to training camp on Oct. 14.
The Snakes now have 9 players on their camp roster. Joining Maldonado and Tyler on the blue line are Andrew Krelove and rookie Chris Bailer. Brett Hammond, Sam Bowles and Levi Lind along with Daniel Amesbury and Jim Durham are the Snakes forwards on board.
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The Cottonmouths failed to gain a point in only 16 of their 56 regular-season games and swept through the playoffs with a 6-0 record en route to their second title in 8 SPHL seasons. The playoff run was the longest winning streak of the season and the team’s longest losing streak was only 2 games.
“We had a much more experienced team last season,” Maldonado said. “With experience, you know that if you lose 2 in a row, there’s no reason to panic. Experience helped us focus on the task at hand.”
The Cottonmouths were clear about their lofty goal from the first day of camp and never wavered from that mission. A highly competitive, intense training camp prepared the Snakes for the road to the President’s Cup.
“Camp set the tone for the rest of the year,” Maldonado said. “We wanted to not only be in the final game, but we were determined not to lose it. We were prepared to do whatever it takes, work hard and be consistent.”
Maldonado is back for his second full season, after joining the team in January of 2011. After his collegiate career at Middlebury, Maldonado played for 3 teams in the Central Hockey League and 2 in Europe. He’s found a hockey home in Columbus.
“This has been the best organization I’ve ever been with,” Maldonado said. “It starts at the top with the owners who are so loyal and so passionate. You get a sense of family here that you don’t often get in minor pro hockey.”
Maldonado and Tyler were the top defensemen on league’s best power play unit. The Snakes converted 20.52% of their opportunities, 1.58% ahead of second-place Pensacola. Tyler chipped in 27 power play assists to lead the SPHL and Maldonado’s 15 were third best in the league.
“It was awesome paired with Tom on the power play,” Tyler said. “Our power play finished number one. We clicked at the right time. Neither of us is a big, physical guy. Putting up points is one of the ways we contribute. It’s why we’re there.”
Tyler and former captain Will Barlow were defensive partners for two seasons. Barlow’s retirement will leave a considerable void.
“Will was one of my closest friends on the team as well as my partner,” Tyler said. “Pound for pound he was the toughest guy in the league. He always stood up for his teammates. He did a tremendous job.”
Tyler, who played 4 seasons at the University of Maine, spent one year each at the ECHL and CHL level.
Tyler reports for his third Snakes season, contributing 78 points over his first two years. Tyler’s 46 points last season were behind only leading scorer Jordan Braid’s 52.
The Snakes drop the puck on the regular season at home on Oct. 26 against Pensacola.