COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - It’s a whole new world at the Columbus Civic Center these days. For the past two years, when the Columbus Lions finished indoor football, things went quiet. Not anymore. Hockey is set to return as the Columbus River Dragons are busy setting up shop.
There’s a difference between the Cottonmouths and the River Dragons. With the Cottonmouths ownership, it was lifelong Columbus people learning hockey. The new ownership group consists of lifelong hockey people learning Columbus.
“They appreciate athletic talent,”said Scott Brand, River Dragons president and general manager. “It’s not just hockey – the football they follow, and baseball and soccer. We watched the Lions here, and the Lions are part of the community, too, and to me that’s just wonderful. That’s a town with pride, and I think Columbus has got a lot of pride, and we hope we can be part of that.”
The Snakes of old had great prowess on the ice, hanging three championship banners and plenty of retired jersey numbers on the walls… but despite their love of what they were doing, they had issues translating hockey success into financial success. The River Dragons are going for the two-fer necessary to keep the sport going at the Civic Center.
“We have to make sure people get value,” said Brand. “I think people are willing to pay X amount of dollars for the ticket as long as they feel they get value. So, we have to make sure that when you get in, despite the score of the game, you enjoy yourself and you get your ticket. I mean, basically I’m selling a two-and-a-half hour movie and I don’t know if the good guy or the bad guy’s going to win in the end, so we have to make sure.”
There’s one familiar face in the crowd. Actually he’s beyond familiar. Jerome Bechard was a Cottonmouth as long as the Snakes were a thing -- the first player signed, eventually becoming head coach and general manager. Now he’s a co-head coach, ready for this renewal of hockey in Columbus.
“For two years I walked around town and everyone was like, ‘Oh we miss hockey. We miss hockey. I can’t believe it’s gone,’” said Bechard. “So the energy in town is really high, everyone is really excited about it, and now we’ve just got to put a good product on the ice.”
There’s still six weeks or so to go before the refrigeration equipment gets fired up. Instead, the River Dragons are trying to fire up a roster for their inaugural season in the Federal Hockey League.
“My phone is starting to ring off the hook,” Bechard said. “I just got off the phone with an East Coast League all-star guy that we used to play against many years ago. His son is now 22 and is kind of looking at it. So, things like that, the ball just kind of gets rolling.”
And it's not just players. The River Dragons are working on coming up with names for the new mascots, taking votes on their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts taking votes until next Friday.
Training camp will get underway in early October, with the Dragons playing on the road versus the Delaware Thunder October 25 and 26. Their home their home debut is set for November 1, when the Elmira Enforcers come to the Civic Center.