Columbus Cottonmouths assistant captain Orrin Hergott and goaltender Ian Vigier enjoyed a banner season in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Both will be key elements in the Snakes' quest for the President's Cup.
Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against the Louisiana IceGators is tonight at 7:30 in the Columbus Civic Center. The Snakes posted a 4-2 road victory in Game 1 and can sweep the best-of-three series tonight.
The greatest joy for the Snakes leaders came off the ice.
Hergott and Vigier became first-time parents to baby boys. Nixon Michael Hergott arrived Oct. 8, right before his dad and teammates opened training camp. Paxton Ames Vigier was born Jan. 5, as his father and fellow Cottonmouths approached the season's halfway point.
Both players, who will turn 30 later this year, are relishing the thrill of parenthood.
Hergott, who now has the dubious honor of being the oldest player on the team, still is adjusting to the reality of having a child.
"I still can't believe I'm a dad," Hergott said. "Guys tell you it'll change your life, and they're right. I have a hard time going on the road now because I miss him. (Wife) Fonda is always sending me pictures when I have to be away from him. We're blessed to have this little guy."
Vigier faced an even trickier situation with Paxton's birth imminent and the team headed for Louisiana for a two-game road trip.
"The first half of the season, we were playing the waiting game," Vigier said. "Things were getting tense at the end of December, and (wife) Maggie was a little anxious about road games after New Year's."
Then the Jan. 6-7 trip loomed.
"Jerome (Bechard) said he didn't want to put me in that position," Vigier said. "So the decision was made that I wouldn't make the trip."
Paxton's birth ended up being scheduled due to a medical complication, and he arrived the day before the trip.
"We found out on a Wednesdaym and he was born on a Thursday," Vigier said.
Vigier also goes on the road now with mixed feelings and has developed a new perspective on his life and career.
"Paxton's the boss," Vigier said. "He's showing us the way. Maggie is really good about letting me sleep when we have a game. My game-day routine has changed because I want to be with him. Going on the road is tough because I may not see him for a few days.
"At the end of the day, I'm a parent first and a hockey player second."
Both players have excelled this season. Hergott, the lone remaining member of the Snakes' 2004-2005 championship squad, is playing his eighth Snakes season, a rare achievement for a minor league player. Vigier continues to shine in his fifth year between the pipes for the Cottonmouths.
Hergott is experiencing a stellar comeback season after hitting the skids offensively the past three years. He has hovered near the top of the list of Snakes scoring leaders since October. Hergott finished with 43 points, behind Jordan Braid (52) and Bret Tyler (46).
In the previous three seasons, Hergott was hampered by injuries and paired with linemates less suited to complementing his speed and quickness. He scored only 64 points in the past three seasons combined.
This year, Hergott has drunk from the fountain of youth, blossoming on a line with rookie of the year candidate Greg Beller and steady, experienced Derek Pallardy.
"From day one, we seemed to click," Hergott said of his line. "We read each other well and feed off each other. I don't feel like the oldest player on the team. Well, some mornings I do, but I don't consider myself old the way I play. It's a privilege to have played here this long. Not many players get to stay with one team this long. I'm very lucky that Jerome and (owners) Wanda and Shelby (Amos) wanted to keep me here."
Vigier is a strong candidate for SPHL goaltender of the year, which will be announced on April 2. He was named to the All-SPHL First Team on Tuesday. Vigier's numbers this season (2.56 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, along with league-best 21 wins) have kept him in the top spot for much of the season. Vigier finished second to Mississippi Surge's Kiefer Smiley by .07 in goals-against average.
Yet Vigier doesn't necessarily consider this his best season.
"Statistically, it looks better," Vigier said. "Two years ago, I was facing 35 shots a game, and, this year, I average in the low 20s. We have a more defensive-minded team this year, and they handle a lot of the shots before they get to me. All I want to do is win. The numbers don't matter."