With the Columbus Cottonmouths in an unfamiliar spot -- last place in the nine-team SPHL -- veterans such as Kyle Johnson, a team captain, feel the pressure more than ever this season.
In jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since the birth of the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2004 -- the top eight teams advance -- the Snakes' longest tenured leader knows that in order to get out of the cellar more than just the play on the ice is going to have to change.
"Somebody is going to have to start lighting the lamp for us," Johnson said. "End of the day guys need to become dedicated to laying it on the line when on the ice."
In 2013, while just in his second season, Johnson was named captain. Since then Johnson has been the non-vocal leader preaching by how he plays.
"Last couple of years he skipped into the role as captain with relative ease," coach Jerome Bechard said. "Jonny has always been the lead by example and effort guy. I think this season he has tried to put too much pressure on himself."
One of many Snakes to suffer injuries this season, Johnson has also had to play through pain, including missing a couple of games in the middle of January.
"Not playing is tough to watch,
especially when we're losing," Johnson said. "But hockey isn't like baseball, you have to be healthy to go or you're just going to end up hurting the team each shift you're out there."
In more than three-quarters of the 34 games this season, Columbus has been forced to play a man down, mostly due to injuries.
Since Jan. 1, the Snakes have gone 2-10, falling from sixth place in the standings to last place, getting outscored 45-22. They have lost five straight.
The Snakes enter their three-game weekend looking for answers. Columbus doesn't leave the state of Georgia this weekend with a road game in Macon wedged in between home dates against Huntsville Friday night and Louisiana on Sunday. Macon and Louisiana currently reside just in front of the Cottonmouths in the standings, seventh and eighth, respectively.
With the playoffs just around the corner, the sense of urgency for the club has increased with everyone beginning to feel the pressure.
"The mess we're in, everyone has to look in the mirror and say to themselves have they given me everything they got," Bechard said. "Right now they have to be telling themselves a resounding no."