Monday, January 23, 2017


Hockey Life, On The Road.

                                              Columbus Cottonmouths' Bus

A hockey life is a very transient life. For a variety of reasons, you do not often stay in one place for a long time. You might get traded, or demoted. Then again, you might get “called up” to play in a better league. Injuries are always a factor. There may also be personal reasons for changing your locale.

Junior players only stay in their junior towns or cities for a few years. They may move on to colleges or universities. They may join the professional ranks, or simply decide to hang up the blades. There are only so many jobs in professional hockey.

                                                 Andy Bathgate, former Belleville Bull

Some of those jobs happen to exist in leagues that are not widely known, like the SPHL. There are nine teams in the league, and, over the years, many local players from the Quinte area have laced up their skates for one of these teams: Columbus Cottonmouths, Evansville Thunderbolts, Fayetteville FireAntz, Huntsville Havoc, Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Mahem, Mississippi River Kings, Pensacola Flyers, Peoria Rivermen, and the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.

Most of the players who toil in the SPHL are there because they love the game. The love the camaraderie, the competition, the action. They are in the process of “living the dream”, in hopes that they might some day play for substantial money. I suggest that if they really did not like playing, they would walk away from the game.

Rusty Hafner plays for the Columbus Cottonmouths. He played his college hockey at Bowling Green. Be he also spent an exciting year with the Wellington Dukes, playing 20 playoff games all the way to the Royal Bank Cup. Andy Bathgate also plays for Columbus. He skated on the big ice in Belleville for several years with the Bulls. That ice and that team, as you well know, no longer exist.

                                  Rusty Hafner, Former Wellington Duke

The SPHL is a bus league. Teams travel thousands of miles each season. Columbus ventured north last weekend to play the Peoria Rivermen. At 1:15pm, on Friday afternoon, their bus rolled off the highway in Illinois. All of the players on the team, and team personnel went to the hospital. First reports indicated that there were serious injuries.

On Sunday evening, they played the second game of their weekend schedule against Pensacola. Only six players from the team were able to play. Coach Bechard had his hands full.

It was one of the most emotional events I've been involved with. We had six guys from our team playing and we had twelve guys from all over the country, some that I knew, some that I didn't know. And they came together. It wasn't a pretty game, by any means, but they did everything they needed to do, and really showed what being a team is all about', he reported to the local media.

Goaltender Brandon Jaeger was released from hospital yesterday, and is home recovering with his parents. David Segal has played pro hockey for ten years, more than 417 games. “I have never played in a more meaningful or emotional game in my entire career,” he said, after the game.

The team lost the game to Pensacola 6-3. I am certain it was a game that none of them will ever forget. Thankfully, they are all on the mend.

Not just another day in minor pro hockey.

James Hurst
January 23, 2017.

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