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Columbus River Dragons are ‘fired up’ for the start of preseason camp, coaches say

Jerome “Boom Boom” Bechard, associate head coach of the Columbus River Dragons, patrolled the ice Thursday morning at the Columbus Ice Rink, occasionally barking commands to his players. Attackers and defensemen interchanged roles in a drill that involved skating down the ice, switching possession and skating back the other way, mimicking a fast-break.

Each player is vying for a coveted spot on the River Dragons’ final roster, and each knows that any given day, that dreaded phone call that he had been cut could come.

The River Dragons started a short preseason camp Thursday morning, opening the next chapter of hockey in Columbus. Fittingly, the old dry-erase boards Bechard used to explain a drill still had the Cottonmouths’ logo at the center.

“The guys are fired up,” River Dragons player-coach Jay Croop said. “We’ve been itching for the first day for a while. Obviously, bringing a team back to Columbus, it’s pretty exciting, and we’re going to try and go for a cup right away the first year.”

The River Dragons get started quickly. Following a three-day preseason camp, the team opens play on the road against the Delaware Thunder on October 25. The team’s home opener on November 1 comes against the Elmira Enforcers, who made the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup finals.

This only ramps up the pressure on the team’s front office and coaching staff, as they evaluate the talent at camp and try to put together a final roster.

“This is probably the most competitive camp in the (league),” River Dragons president and general manager Scott Brand said. “Without question.”

The River Dragons’ preliminary roster, according to the team’s official site, includes players from cities like Prague, Czech Republic, Ottawa, Ontario and Margate, Florida.

The roster lists seven rookies.

“We’re looking for the right guys,” associate head coach Gary Gill said. “Not the ‘best’ guys, but the right guys for this team to help us go down the road and hopefully bring back a championship. We’re looking for good-character guys … good players, obviously. Most importantly, the guys with the desire to win.”

That desire to win will be imperative early in the season, as six of the River Dragons’ first eight games come on the road.

For the first-year team, jumping out to a quick start and getting some wins under its belt could go a long way in both setting the tone for the season, and drumming up local support.

But win or lose, avid and casual fans alike in Columbus should expect to be entertained.

Bechard preaches fast-paced, high-scoring hockey, just as he did as coach of the Cottonmouths. He called it “Columbus-style hockey” in an August interview with the L-E.

“You knew when you came to (Columbus), that you were going to face that style of play,” Gill said. “That’s the same way I like to coach. We’re cut from the same cloth, so you can expect hard-hitting, fast-paced hockey.”

Fans can purchase single-game tickets on Ticketmaster, or pick from several ticket plans on the team’s website. The River Dragons open their home slate Friday, November 1 against Elmira (7:35 p.m., Columbus Civic Center).

“Finally, it’s here,” Brand said. “To see these kids — I call them kids because they’re young — but to see these kids in town, who can’t be excited?”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.