The Columbus Cottonmouths added two more key members to what they hope will be a championship roster with the signing of speedster Orrin Hergott and defenseman Jason Schulz.
Coach and general manager Jerome Bechard now has a total of four players committed to return for the Snakes’ fifth Southern Professional Hockey League season. Goaltender Chad Rycroft is coming out of retirement to provide experience in net. Captain Craig Stahl is the heart of the Cottonmouths and is one of the league’s most respected leaders.
Hergott returns for his fifth SPHL season as does Stahl. The diminutive forward is eager to wipe out his final memory of last season. The Snakes fell to eventual champion Knoxville 6-3 in game five of their first-round series as Hergott glumly watched in street clothes.
“It was absolutely horrible to watch. I still think I could have played. I’m itching to get back especially with the news that Rycroft and Stahl will be back,” said Hergott.
Hergott was hit by the Ice Bears’ Mike Craigen in game four of the series at home. “I don’t remember the hit but I remember everything right after,” said Hergott. “I took a pretty good rap on the head. I don’t know if it was a concussion, but I was held out as a precaution.”
In his role as spectator, Hergott had time to reflect on the Snakes’ season as it ended on April 8 in Knoxville. The team put together its most consistent effort of the season to give the Ice Bears all they could handle in the playoff series.
“We had so many ups and downs because of injuries. We were that close to going to the championship round. If we’d played all season like we did the two games in Columbus, things would have been different.”
Knoxville won games one and two of the best-of-five series at home setting up two sudden death games for the Snakes in Columbus. The Cottonmouths responded by winning both and setting up the winner-take-all finale in Knoxville.
Schulz joined the Snakes on February 9, the latest defenseman to proceed through the revolving door at the blue line. He signed a five-game tryout and a contract two weeks later.
Schulz and Stahl were teammates on the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League in 2002-2003. Schulz left hockey to become a construction superintendent but remained in his native New Mexico.
The bad economy caused Schulz to lose his construction job right after Christmas last year. Former Cottonmouth and current Scorpions coach Randy Murphy called Schulz. He played only one game for New Mexico but the experience rekindled his desire to play full-time.
Schulz played 16 regular-season games for the Snakes and all five playoff contests. He scored four points during the season and three in the playoffs, He filled Bechard’s need for a solid, stay-at-home defenseman. Along with veteran Roman Marakhovski he provided stability to the Snakes’ young defensive corps.
Training camp opens on October 12. The Snakes drop the puck on the 2008-2009 season at home against arch-rival Huntsville on Friday, October 24.