In the back halls of the Columbus Civic Center, there are signs everywhere that read AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY with the Columbus Cottonmouths logo on them.
Cottonmouths Equipment Manager, Mike Nash goes through the motions…
“I’ll pack and unpack their gear so that all they have to do is show up,” Nash says, showing me around.
The lights are turned on.
The pucks are put out on the bench.
“There are some tireless hours,” he shakes his head with a smile.
The coffee is started.
“All done with lots of coffee.”
The practice jerseys are hung up with the other equipment for each of the players.
“I’ll set up their underwear for them, so they change in here, and get their gear on in the main room,” Nash explains, setting hangars up under the assigned numbers for the players.
Skates are sharpened.
“I sharpen all of the skates on game day too.”
A table is set up for the players. “The players cut and tape their own sticks though.”
Nash has a sewing machine on a table for his use as well and shows me which trunks he takes for road games.
As the players filter in, Coach Jerome Bechard will go over game replays on the TV in the main locker room.
Today’s skate is an optional one, so Coach and a lot of the players won’t be on the ice.
Some of them take the time to stretch or take in a ping-pong game on the table that is set up in the locker room. Some stay in their street clothes, talking amongst each other. After a bit, they make their way back home.
“There are bins set up all over for dirty laundry or trash.” Nash points around the room. “The guys are really good about cleaning up after themselves.”
Strategically placed in the center of the room, is the Snakes’ logo on a background of circular black carpet.
“But if you walk on the logo…it’s a hundred dollars,” Nash states.
“That includes you,” he points me.
Oh, trust me, I have no intention of stepping on that particular piece of carpet with the logo. I know better. It’s protected, like a sacred artifact.
Nash and I watch as the players on the ice practice three on twos and two one, shooting from different angles and passing. Looking over, I see Kyle Johnson, who is still out with an injury, is watching as well.
“Sixteen Years. The past three are with Columbus though,” he answers. “I was an assistant with the Mudbugs as well.”
When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t doing this, “When you love what you do, it’s hard to think about doing anything else,” he answers, smiling.
Adam Norman, M.S., ATC, is the Cottonmouth’s Athletic Trainer.
He’s here for the players as well. He’s stretching them, icing them down, or applying heat. His focus this morning is rehab. This is Norman’s third year out of Grad School.
“My main focus is injury prevention,” Norman explains, as he gives one of the players a rub down. “I’ll treat acute stuff on the ice. Anything else, we treat back here. It’s all about finding the source, then fixing it.”
“I absolutely love hockey. It’s becoming my favorite sport,” Norman says, with a big smile on his face. “The guys are great. It means leaps and bounds to have athletes trust you. The staff here just welcome’s you with open arms. We all work as a unit. Columbus is the best at doing that too.”
When the players that were on the ice, shower, dress and leave, both Norman and Nash reset.
For Norman, it’s making sure that everyone that has come in is logged in with the medical measures he’s taken.
For Nash, he lets me trail behind him as he starts laundry, (a seemingly never-ending thing). He sets the equipment up in the players’ stalls and turns on the fans to dry everything in time for the game later tonight.
For the players that didn’t practice, he sets their underwear up on the hooks in the dressing room, then goes back out to the main room and starts setting out everyone’s socks. Then he hangs up the warm-up jerseys and the game jerseys.
The words FAMILY, RESPECT, HONOR, and TRADITION are on the walls. This embodies the Cottonmouths team.
It’s a never-ending cycle for both Nash and Norman, but for both men, they can’t see themselves doing anything else.