Coming off an emotional week in Illinois last week, the Columbus Cottonmouths on Wednesday announced a reinforcement behind the bench in the form of a familiar face.
Orrin Hergott, who skated in over 400 professional games for Columbus from 2004 to 2013, was named a co-coach in a team press release on Wednesday.
Hergott was part of two championship teams for the Snakes in his rookie season of 2005 and his penultimate pro season in 2012. His 404 games as a Cottonmouth are the most with one team in SPHL history and were the most games played in the league overall until Jason Price, another Columbus alumnus currently with Knoxville, broke the record last season.
Head coach Jerome Bechard welcomes the relief after a whirlwind week, starting with the bus crash Jan. 19 just 10 miles outside their destination in Peoria, Ill.
“With him being a co-coach with what’s transpired the last week, I know I have a lot of office responsibilities that I need to take care of, paperwork with the guys, this and that,” Bechard said. “I’m going to be kind of swamped with that, and I can’t have my hockey side distracted. If I’m tied up doing something with medical or insurance, I want to make sure we’re covered on the ice. Trying to get back to normal isn’t going to be overnight.
“I know Orrin can help me get us back to kind of normal on the ice. We’re going to be doing everything together. He’s going to be coming in with new eyes and a new voice in the locker room; not that we need a new voice, but it’s just another set of hands and eyes to help us progress to where we need to be.”
“He called me and I was pretty excited about the opportunity,” Hergott said. “It was a no-brainer to jump on board.”
Bechard says it was also a no-brainer to solicit Hergott for the job. Just like Bechard’s No. 16 hangs from the Columbus Civic Center rafters for his play with the team in the Central Hockey League and ECHL from 1996 to 2003, Hergott’s No. 11 also was retired after this retirement from playing.
“He’s a leader,” Bechard said. “He knows what the Columbus Cottonmouths stand for. This team means as much to him as it does to me, and he knows the community. He knows our systems we run, what I want out of our players, and what we need out of our players. He has two championships, and he’s a natural leader and winner. We need that.
“Does he have the hockey experience as a head coach? Absolutely not. He has some coaching experience, not at this level, but at the same time, he has a plethora of knowledge from playing nine years professionally.”
Hergott hopes to draw from not only his playing experience but his coaching experience after hockey, where he has coached youth and high school teams in Columbus and also Auburn University’s hockey team.
“I think doing a lot of youth hockey, especially in a non-traditional market, you’re focused on explaining the fundamentals of the game,” Hergott said. “Even at Auburn, we had some decent players, but they’ve never played Tier 1 or anything like that. It was a lot of breaking the game down, telling them where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to be doing, and why they’re supposed to be doing it. I think at this level, you’re not breaking things down quite as much.”
A plus for Hergott is that he also stayed locally after his retirement, marrying the former Fonda Suggs, who grew up in Columbus, and starting a family with his son, Nixon. The three recently built a house and currently reside in Hamilton, Ga.
“It just so happened that Orrin was in the right place at the right time,” Bechard said. “This is his home. I have a talented guy right here who can do what I need. It’d be crazy to go outside and get somebody. He doesn’t have to move or do anything, and I don’t have to worry about getting living arrangements for him. It’s a perfect fit.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” Hergott said. “I had some opportunities to go back to Canada and do some coaching in midget AAA. With the situation with Nixy and Fonda, moving all the way up to Canada, none of them were real ideal. It’d be me by myself going, and they would stay here. For this to happen, it’s all I’ve wanted to do since I got done playing. It’s real exciting, and I’m very grateful Wanda, Shelby, and Jerome wanted to include me.
“I’m excited about the future ahead.”
The first task for Bechard and Hergott will be to assemble a roster for the weekend, when the Cottonmouths will face Roanoke at home in a back-to-back set of games Friday and Saturday nights. The Snakes expect to release a roster for the weekend on Thursday afternoon, which will feature a mix of current players and some former veteran players who have made a home in the Columbus area, per the team press release.