Columbus Cottonmouths

Stahl set to return to Cottonmouths

Columbus Cottonmouths captain Craig Stahl should have no problem staying healthy during his fifth season as the Snakes' leader.

With the Jacksonville Barracudas taking a year's hiatus, Stahl will avoid returning to the site of two major injuries in the past four years.

“I don't know what they have against me,” Stahl joked.

The Cottonmouths announced Wednesday that Stahl will return for the 2008-09 season, his 12th professional season. Stahl joins goaltender Chad Rycroft on the Snakes’ training camp roster.

Stahl's two injuries suffered in Jacksonville were no laughing matter. During the Snakes' inaugural season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, Stahl's eyesight was in jeopardy when he went sprawling across the ice in front of the net and the blade of a Barracudas’ skate sliced him under the left eye.

He missed a month of the 2004-2005 season, but his vision eventually returned to almost completely normal.

Last season, Jacksonville was again the scene of an injury that initially appeared to be minor but ended up causing Stahl a great deal of pain and limiting his mobility for weeks.

“I was in front of the net and got the puck to Orrin (Hergott),” Stahl said. “I turned and his shot hit me on the foot when I had all my weight on that foot. I finished the game and went for x-rays but nothing showed up. I played another two weeks and tried everything, but it still hurt. Finally I went back and they found it was broken.”

Stahl underwent surgery late in the season. After the screws were removed from his ankle in the off-season, it's almost as good as new.

“After I got the screws out, I was walking right away and was able to get back in the gym. I haven't had any problem with it,” he said.

Stahl is the fourth captain in the Cottonmouths' 13-year history and is one of the most respected players in the league. At the top of the list of Stahl fans is the Snakes' first captain and current coach and general manager Jerome Bechard.

“We couldn't have a better veteran to be around the young guys,” said Bechard. “He shows them what it takes to be a professional. He's been to National Hockey League camps. He can show the young guys what it takes to be successful.”

Stahl is eager to return to the ice to erase last season's final memories. The Snakes endured a difficult season plagued by injuries which necessitated Bechard's constant juggling of the roster and lines. They played their best hockey of the season in the playoffs, taking eventual champion Knoxville to the limit of five games.

“We did all we could, but it wasn't good enough,” said Stahl of the final game in Knoxville. “I'll always remember our coming together in the playoffs and overcoming a lot of adversity to battle them all the way to game five.”

The SPHL opens training camp on Oct. 12 with the regular season starting the weekend of Oct. 24. The schedule should be announced within two weeks.0618