Columbus Cottonmouths

Lockout and Other Problems

      Welcome news for NHL fans this morning. The lockout is OVER!! After half of the season gone, including the Winter Classic and All-Star Game, mini-training camps are expected to open asap and play to resume at lightning speed.

       Sorry if I'm not turning cartwheels, but all I can think about is the greed and stubbornness that caused and then extended the lockout. I think, too, about the financial hit that "regular people" took over this. The businesses in NHL cities that depend on the money that fans spend, the game-day folks who work at the rinks, and the fans who missed their beloved teams. Those are the people I've felt for. Not the bazillionnaire players and owners, that's for sure!

      For the practical side, I wonder what's going to happen to teams down here in the SPHL. No, I don't think Ian Vigier is going to get a call from Winnipeg to play between the pipes...:) But can and will the trickle down effect trickle back up? When the NHL guys report, holes will be made in AHL rosters, so they'll go get guys from the ECHL. We all know what happens when the ECHL coaches need guys. They often come to the SPHL.

     The Snakes were already struggling enough before awaking to this news. What if a significant number of hockey rosters get hit, so much so that the impact is felt down here? Jerome will not try to stop any player who gets the call from a higher league. Two questions: who will get the call and will they want to go?

      A lot of guys are newly schooled in the "grass is always greener" theory. They've spent time in the CHL and ECHL and discovered that all organizations are not created equal and playing in these leagues may mean a great line on your hockey resume, but not necessarily happiness. It will be interesting to see how the coming week plays out.

       Now, to last night's game. One of the more frustrating losses in recent memory. The Snakes have a solid opportunity to grab 2 points in their climb up the SPHL ladder. They're playing the last-place team which has a grand total of TWO wins at home all season. I know they're improving and underwent a coaching change, but this is a team that the Cottonmouths should beat. 

     What is it about playing in the James Brown Arena? Wish I had the answer to that one, but my memories from there aren't exactly fond ones...UGH.

     The biggest question is: when are the guys going to put together a 60-minute effort? I watched the clock the other night against Huntsville. As it approached the midpoint of the second period, I thought: ok, here it comes. They'll kick it into gear. Less than a minute later, sure enough, that's what happened.

      The guys themselves told me, John Sullivan and Sam Bowles just this weekend, that they need to come out hitting and scoring from the drop of the first puck. Not happening.

      Ya'all know I am limited to what I can see on the web, but I know one thing. Ian was the lone ranger on the two quick goals that put the Snakes in a deep 3-0 hole. Where was his D? Turnovers and failing to play sound positional hockey are deeply affecting this team.

       Granted, the guys were missing a key d-man in Bret Tyler, but Tom Maldonado is playing his best hockey of the season, so that fills a little of the void left by Bret's absence. But, the Cottonmouths desperately need them both.

       The offense continues to baffle me. During a 5-game winning streak, the team scores 5 goals per game. Five different guys score game winners. Ian has 3 wins and Andrew Loewen 2. Since then...

       In the next 6 games, the team is 2-2-2 and has scored a whopping 12 goals. Do the math: average of 5 goals/game=5 wins; average of 2 per game=2 wins and 2 ties. 10 points vs 6.

       The challenge of a depleted roster is definitely one they've dealt with for over a month, since Orrin Hergott and Derek Pallardy were hurt. Derek is working his way back, playing the last couple of games on D. Orrin can't come back for at least another week. To add to their offensive woes, Capt. Biff McNally has probably ended his tour of duty with the team. A welcome bandaid for the short bench, Biff has played very well. But I think Uncle Sam and his demanding work schedule will need him back. We should see Biff again on Legends Weekend.

        Mark Thorburn will play the last of his 3 games on Tuesday. With Orrin on IR, Jerome can sign Mark to a regular contract and not use up another 3-gamer. But I'm wondering if he's going to evaluate all of the other forwards, especially with players who will undoubtedly come available because of the lockout's end. There are a number of them who are not putting up the numbers they need to, in order for the team to score a minimum of 3-4 goals a game.

        This could be a challenging stretch coming up for the Snakes. Finishing 4 games in 6 nights on Tuesday, then hitting the road for two games next weekend, back to Augusta on Friday and on to Knoxville on Saturday. 

         Despite the inconsistency of the past 6 games, the Cottonmouths are very much in the hunt to defend their SPHL title. They missed a golden opportunity to move into a tie for 5th with the Mississippi RiverKings when the Kings lost last night. Their 27 points are, incredibly, only 9 points out of FIRST place!!  Columbus reaches the midpoint of its season on Saturday night in Knoxville with two key ingredients missing: a healthy roster and consistency. Let's see how the next couple of weeks play out.

         Stay tuned.