Hi again, Snakes fans!! I know ya'all have been keeping up with all of the Snakes signings this off-season. I have a question for you:
Are you as surprised as I am?
On that magical night in Pensacola, even as rushed as I was, I took a moment to take a long, slow look at the guys on the ice. As I've told you, the pure joy on their faces was something I'll never forget. I had a little more than the 14 minutes I had to write the championship story in 2005, so I granted myself those few seconds to savor the moment. I also had another thought running through my head:
This is the last time I'll see most of these guys in a Snakes sweater.
Never miss a local story.
I can happily say .... I was wrong.
In my defense, I wasn't the only one who thought this. As I talked to the guys this summer, and I was able to reach the vast majority of them, they told me over and over that part of the evening's emotion was that they would never put on the gear and do battle together again. They also thought the team would scatter.
If you've kept up with my signing stories, you know that both goalies are back. YAY!!! The best goaltending tandem in the SPHL will be there pushing each other for playing time and supporting the starter when relegated to the bench. Ian Vigier and Andrew Loewen...second to none.
The league's most solid and steady defense has at least 3 members back. Tom Maldonado is now a vet. Tom is one of the leaders of this team. Expect him to become a mentor to the rookies who will try to make the Snakes blue line. Bret Tyler, Tom's power play partner and the team's other offensive d-man is also back. One of the team's key off-season acquisitions a year ago was Kevin Kessler. All Kevin did was get better and better as the season progressed. Oh, he also delivered a minimum of one crunching hip check per game. Hurray for the returning d-men!
Here's where it gets a little murky. Unfortunately, rookie sensation from a year ago, Andrew Krelove won't be back. I hear all the yelling....I know I said he was coming back. :( But Andrew just got an offer to play in Holland and he's heading overseas. I sincerely hope it works out for Andrew. The lure of Europe is strong for these young guys. The pay is good and locales exotic. Unfortunately, there's very little middle ground as far as organizations go. From what the guys tell me who've given Europe a try, you either play for a world class organization, which our guys here are used to, or you dash to the bank to make sure your paycheck doesn't bounce. The plus side is all of the places in Europe that they get to see. Andrew had nothing but positive things to say about Columbus and his experience here. If things don't work out for Andrew there, the Snakes are only a phone call away...:)
Tom's defensive partner, Dave Cianfrini, is MIA. I don't mean he's actually missing...haha...but he's not been in contact with Jerome this summer. I talked to Dave briefly on facebook early in the summer but not since. So, as of this moment, no number 5, with long hair or short, back at the Snake Pit.
Saving the worst for last, the captain is gone. Will Barlow was a leader and a gentleman. He'll be sorely missed. Very quotable too...:)
So, that's 3 out of 6 d-men. Compared to what I thought last April, I'm happy with that.
Up front, unbelievable that Orrin Hergott will now be a Cottonmouth for 9...yes that's NINE seasons. Yikes. Orrin and Ian were two that I thought were hanging up the skates for good. Both have adorable baby boys and I really thought they were ready for the working world. It's hard to explain the pull this sport has on these guys, but it's really hard for them to walk away.
There is an upside for Ian and Orrin...they get to be Mr. Mom to Paxton and Nixon. Practice in the morning, an appearance here and there, a little travel, sure. But these precious early moments of their little boys' lives, these two guys are really enjoying. Bless their hearts!
Two guys it'll be hard to replace this season are Pete MacDougall and Mitch Wall. Both are tough grinders who like to hit and take up for their teammates, while also lighting the lamp in key situations. Both of these guys typify what it means to be a Cottonmouth. I'll miss seeing both of them play.
As of right now, Jordan Braid isn't on board, but he still may make his way here. Jordan was the team's leading scorer last season, an understated player with major contributions. He'll be missed, too.
Oh, I almost forgot...that Greg Beller guy. What a find that was on the waiver wire!! How in the world Augusta gave up on him, I'll never know, but he sure was a pleasure to watch. A pretty quiet guy to interview but so explosive on the ice!! Greg, Derek Pallardy and Orrin were the league's most prolific line down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Before we whine too long about the missing forwards, let's look at who's coming back. Two-thirds of the aforementioned line is back...Orrin and Derek...with the search on to "replace" Greg. Brett Hammond returns along with Daniel Amesbury and Jim Durham. Who could forget Sam Bowles, who returned off the IR to catch fire at exactly the right time down the stretch? Levi Lind and John Sullivan are also on board.
Big gaps left by the players who moved on? Definitely. But I was at the rink today and I can tell you that Jerome and Brad are very excited about the new guys coming in. This is just the beginning. With the NHL season in jeopardy, look for the trickle down effect to reach all the way to the SPHL. In fact, I'm working on a story on that subject right now. :)
Training camp...25 days.
Season opener...37 days.