Raised in King of Prussia, Penn., just north of Philadelphia, Al Graves grew up playing all the major sports. At the age of 9, he began learning to play hockey from his dad. Watching the Snakes' forward, it is easy to see the passion he has for the game.
"Philadelphia fans are known for being the most passionate sports fans around," Graves said. "Sports is a huge part of the culture of the area, but Philly fans are some of the most knowledgeable in sports, but are mostly known for their extreme passion."
After playing only sparingly at Williams College, followed by a couple of on-again off-again years at Cornell University, Graves's route to the Snakes' starting lineup was not easy.
Initially invited to training camp at the start of this season, he found himself as the odd man out in a lineup that already featured bruisers like Garrett Lockeridge and Craig Simchuk.
"Training camp is always a difficult time, especially when trying to build a team from scratch," Columbus coach Jerome Bechard said. "You need talented guys and you need your bangers, unfortunately for Graves we already had a couple of established bruisers and needed more of a scoring punch."
Graves played 10 games with the Federal Hockey League's Danbury Titans before getting a second call from Bechard, who watched injuries take its toll on the Snakes' roster.
"I had a strong preseason showing, but I know my resume was lacking in professional, competitive hockey experience, I needed to take step back and get some playing time under my belt," Graves said. "I won't ever forget receiving that call, was on my way back from Chicago when coach asked me to come back to Columbus."
Graves made an immedi
ate impact in his Dec. 4 debut. Graves scored a goal and got into a fight sending an early warning to the other eight other teams in the SPHL that he isn't afraid to take off his gloves.
"That first game was a culmination of things, didn't want to do too much but ended up playing with pure emotion," Graves said. "I don't mind being labeled as an enforcer, if my physical play can create a spark for my team then I take no offense to having others call me that."
Graves has three goals and two assists in 24 games. He also leads the team in penalty minutes with 74.
Columbus opens the weekend on a season-high eight game losing streak and will once again play three games in three days. The Snakes host Huntsville Friday night and will then travel to Pensacola on Saturday before returning home for a Valentine's Day date with Mississippi on Sunday afternoon.
The Snakes are in last place in the SPHL, but they are only three points behind eighth-place Louisiana.