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At 25, Hotham a mature rookie for Florida

by Lindsay Kramer
Killing time riding buses and passing hours on off-days can quickly devour the list of minor-league hockey players' movie options.
So as a bunch of Florida Everblades wandered around a mall in Elmira a couple weeks ago, they found their freshest entertainment alternative to be the hockey crowd classic "Date Night."

It was a little out of their demographic, but everyone had seen all the action and drama movies so they took the plunge.

"We've seen them all. We've kind of run out (of choices)," Everblades rookie defenseman Scott Hotham said. "The guys mutually agreed on that one. We were looking for a comedy. It wasn't hilarious, but it was enjoyable."

"I'm not that young kid, playing against bigger, stronger kids anymore. I think I'm a little farther along than the average rookie. I don't feel like a rookie out there. It’s something they write on paper and you deal with."
-- Scott Hotham

Maybe a general good mood colored the review. Florida had just come off a first-round series win over Elmira and was awaiting word of its second-round opponent. Hotham had contributed 2 goals in that triumph and was finally getting a chance to sample the pro camaraderie he had delayed diving into for so long.

By definition and by team duties, Hotham is an ECHL newcomer. By his chronological age of 25, he is as mature and has as well-formed a game as many players in the league. That showed in his 5 goals and 26 assists during the regular season and his calming presence in helping to shut down the acrobatic Jackals offense when it counted the most.

"I'm not that young kid, playing against bigger, stronger kids anymore," Hotham said. "I think I'm a little farther along than the average rookie. I don't feel like a rookie out there. It’s something they write on paper and you deal with."

Hotham's game upon his arrival in Florida had a polish applied by several hands. His father, Greg, played 230 NHL games. His younger brother, Andrew, is one of the best collegiate players in Canada, for St. Mary's.

"You start to get an appreciation, an understanding at a younger age. He (Greg) is a huge resource," Scott said.

"He's got very good pro instincts," Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said. "You can tell he's had good coaching along the way. It's an advantage maybe he has over a lot of guys."

Hotham sampled the teachings of several coaches in the OHL, as he bounced from North Bay to Saginaw to Mississauga to finally his hometown team of Barrie. After going 11-39 in his last year for the Colts in 2004-05, he was ready to announce himself on the doorstep of the pros.

The pros yawned. Hotham was looking for at least an AHL deal. When there was no scent of that, he decided the smartest choice was to bank a college education at St. Mary's.

"Pro hockey will always be there afterward," Hotham said. "Going back to school later is harder. If I decided I'm done (with the pros) in two years, I'll still have school behind me."

Scott's tenure at St. Mary's temporarily slotted him as a teammate of his brother and rekindled a fraternal can-you-top-this. Scott went 6-27 as a senior and St. Mary's went to the national tournament. Andrew was one of the go-to players on a St. Mary's squad that finished the job by taking CIS title this year.

"There's a definite competitiveness there. But if there's one person who does better than me, I'm glad it's him," Scott said. "He's pretty good. I think he's got more offensive skill than me. I'll give him that."

But Scott can counter that he's already flying off the starting line of his pro career. Although he still began at a level lower than the previously targeted AHL, the tempering impact of experience made the gradual progression easier to grasp.

"I hadn't played any games at this level. I knew I wasn't going to come in and jump to the American League," he said. "I was going to come down here and work as hard as I could. I was coming in, hoping to put up a couple of points. I didn't know what my opportunity would be."

It's been nearly all green lights in Florida. Cameron raves about Hotham's ability to create openings by looking off defenders and then lasering a tape-to-tape pass to exactly where it needs to go. The coach said Hotham's calm, reliable game has produced a more consistent level of play than might be expected from a less-weathered newcomer.

"I think he was prepared for the grind of the season more than a lot of guys were," Cameron said. "His down cycle was a lot shorter than a lot of college guys I've coached over the years."

It has to be right now. Florida has fallen behind to Reading three games to none in the American Conference semifinal series between the teams, although Hotham has 4 assists in the series. Forget about settling in for a cliff-hanger on the big screen. Hotham is a featured player in a real one on the ice.

"This is the exciting time of year. You have a full season behind you. But at the same time, playoffs are a whole 'nother level," he said. "It's a whole different experience. It's a lot different than the regular season. I'm learning as quickly as I can."

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