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Columbus Cottonmouths season preview: Will Barlow becomes fifth captain in franchise history

There were stormy seas for the Columbus Cottonmouths last season as the team sputtered to a sixth-place finish in the Southern Professional Hockey League standings.

A change of command at the helm allows the Snakes to start over with a new voyage.

Will Barlow becomes the fifth captain in franchise history tonight when Columbus and Pensacola drop the puck on the Snakes’ seventh SPHL season.

Cottonmouths coach and general manager Jerome Bechard served the first watch when he was captain from 1997 until his retirement in 2003. Peter Hogan and Colin Pepperall shared leadership the following season. Craig Stahl commanded the team during its first six SPHL years, from 2004 until his retirement last April.

Barlow, 28, relishes the honor conferred upon him by Bechard. “At our exit meeting last year, Jerome mentioned he was considering me,” Barlow said. “Obviously, it was an honor even to be considered. This team has a lot of tradition, and great people have filled this role. A subsequent phone call confirmed it. It was a proud moment for me.”

Pride aside, the Oakville, Ontario, native begins the challenging task of rebuilding his crew. He launches that effort by defining and crafting his own leadership style. Will he be extremely vocal, or is leading by example enough?

“I wouldn’t classify myself in either camp,” Barlow said. “I plan to be flexible as each situation requires a different outcome. I’ll lead by example in that I demand 100 percent of myself every day. I consider myself a hard worker.”

Barlow, who returns for his fourth Snakes season, has begun discussions with those he already considers key members of the crew, veteran forward Orrin Hergott and goaltender Ian Vigier.

Barlow plans to keep everything above board. “I think you begin with honesty. It’s important that Orrin, Ian and I are honest with Jerome and with each other,” Barlow said. “In your leadership group, you have to have guys who want to win. It’s important to not let things drag on. When you see something, deal with it right away.”

Hergott is the only returning veteran. The speedy forward will wear a Snakes sweater for a seventh season.

Hockey rules prevent a goalie from being captain or assistant captain, but Vigier will be a key member of Barlow’s circle. Also back for his fourth season, Vigier will mentor rookie goalie Sylvain Michaud as well as assist Barlow.

While Hergott, Vigier and returning players Jesse Cole, Sam Bowles, Levi Lind, Kyle Lundale, Brent Clarke and Daryl Moore know the ropes, team leaders will have a host of new players to guide.

“Attitude and hard work are the biggest things,” Barlow said. “Everything begins in practice. It doesn’t matter if you like a drill or not, you do it correctly. We will definitely focus on attitude and work ethic.”

Barlow will administer a dressing down when needed. “If I have to be the most unpopular guy on the ice, that’s fine with me,” he said. “We’ll expect honesty and hard work. Jerome is committed to changing things and Orrin, Ian and I are committed to making those changes.”

Barlow has conferred with Stahl and Bechard, and they offered basic advice. “They said I need to be myself,” Barlow said. “Those two guys are legends in this town. It would be too stressful to try and fill their shoes.”

Selecting the next captain was easy for Bechard. “I needed somebody with a strong perspective, somebody who sees what needs to be done and how to do it,” he said. “I don’t need somebody who sugarcoats it.”

Bechard already has seen evidence of Barlow’s leadership. “His work ethic is impeccable,” Bechard said. “He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen. He never takes time off. He continues to challenge himself. What else could I want from a captain?”

Barlow and his leadership team will work to blend nine returnees and nine newcomers.

Rookies Matt Kinnunen, Andrew Loewen, Brody Malek, Cody Straker, Mitch Wall and Zeanan Ziemer will receive instructions on the fundamental game plan as will veteran Brett Hammond, Brett Beauchamp and Bret Tyler.

“The ultimate goal is to win,” Barlow said. “We want to install the attitude that competing is fun. It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”

The fun begins tonight at 7:30 against the Pensacola Ice Flyers.