Scott Muscutt grew up in the southwestern Ontario town of Appin, moved to Fredericton to attend the University of New Brunswick and wound up playing hockey in Louisiana.
It has been quite a trip. Muscutt now coaches the team for which he played, the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs of the Central Hockey League, and it is the hottest outfit in pro hockey. When we caught up to Muscutt on a long distance line, the Mudbugs had dropped only one point in their last 23 games.
Home is a $60-million, 8,200-seat arena, and sports fans in the non-traditional market in the northwest corner of Louisiana have taken to hockey like, well, the mudbugs that live in the Red River separating Bossier City and Shreveport. Mudbugs are freshwater crustaceans that look like miniature lobsters and are also known as crayfish. There is a menacing one brandishing a hockey stick on the players' sweaters
"It's a great place to play," says Muscutt. "Talk to people here now and they wouldn't know what to do without their hockey.
"It's really taken the region by storm. The hospitality down here is absolutely second to none. You get a great group of Canadian kids down here who are well mannered and who show interest in the community, and it makes a winning combination. We understand we're not the NHL, but the people sure treat us like we are."
Muscutt was the first player to sign when the franchise was set up 11 years ago. He played for three years and took over as head coach in 2000. He and his wife and three boys recently moved into a new house six blocks from the rink.
"This is home for us and the people have been phenomenal to us," says the 37-year-old Canadian. "I miss Canada and I miss family but there's no question this is home for us now."
Central players and brass have a best-of poll each season, and the Mudbugs have been first in the category of hardest working team for the last four years. It is a defence-first club that rarely loses.
"Our offence is spread around," says Muscutt. "Every guy finds a way to chip in on this hockey club."
The captain, in his sixth season with the team, is 32-year-old Chris Brassard of Toronto. He was tied for the team lead in goals scored (18) with American Joe Ori and Tyrel Lucas of Williams Lake, B.C.
"All three are at different places in their careers and all three are buying into what's going on here and contributing," says Muscutt.
The 23-year-old Lucas, who played junior in the WHL for Lethbridge, Prince George and Calgary, is in his first season with the Mudbugs.
"He's really found some confidence and he's finding the back of the net for us bigtime," says Muscutt.
The leading point-getter was CHL all-star Dan Pegoraro of Toronto. The 24-year-old Cornell University grad had nine goals and 34 assists for 43 points.
"He's one of those guys who loves to play every day," says his coach. "He comes to the rink excited to be there and is a real team player.
"He's one of those happy-go-lucky kids who comes to the rink every day willing to do anything to make the team better."
Brett Smith of Guelph, Ont., was next with 42 (17-25). The 26-year-old centre is a Ferris State University grad.
The return of Jason Campbell of Orangeville, Ont., provided a boost. The 32-year-old forward also played at UNB.
"Soupy has a wife and three kids and took last year off but he's back now and he's been a phenomenal leader," says Muscutt.
First-year Mudbug Kevin Cooper of Mississauga, Ont., via Middlebury College had a team-best plus-22 on the plus-minus chart. Cooper skates on a line with other newcomers Justin Aikins of Surrey, B.C., via the University of New Hampshire, and Elias Godoy of West Vancouver, who is out of UMass-Lowell.
On defence, Ryan Fairbarn of Bradford, Ont., and Quade Lightbody of Port Elgin, Ont., are significant Canadian contributors. Lightbody had a team-high 132 penalty minutes, including nine fighting majors.
"Quade is an assistant captain and is playing great hockey," says Muscutt.
Goaltenders Ken Carroll of Oil City, Ont., and American John DeCaro rarely lose. Each has a save percentage over .940.
"Both are all-star calibre and have really answered the bell for us," says Muscutt.
Carroll, who played in the OHL for the Sarnia Sting, was a UNB teammate of Muscutt.
"When I took the coach's job, Kenny was one of the first guys I wanted down here," says Muscutt. "He rises to every occasion."
Bossier-Shreveport leads overall CHL standings with 68 points. In 43 games, the Mudbugs have lost only seven times in regulation. How hot are they? They've been all but untouchable after going winless in their first six games of the season.
"You knock on wood and hope it never stops," says Muscutt, who downplayed the 23-game streak.
"This team is just trying to get better," he says. "We want to be a playoff team and win the championship.
"Anything short of that doesn't matter to us. We're really trying to focus on the big picture here and get ready for the playoffs."
Recruiting is a big part of his job, and Muscutt does it well. He gets scouting help from his father, David Muscutt, who has coached teens in southwestern Ontario.
"We really try to stay in touch with all the CIS schools," he says of keeping a vigilant eye north. "We like to recruit kids coming out of college, and we stay in touch with NHL programs to see if they have kids slipping through the seams.
"We let everybody we can know that Bossier-Shreveport is a great place to play and that anybody who comes is going to have a great time."
The closest the team gets to Canada for a game is Youngstown, Ohio, and parents, siblings and friends from Ontario regularly make the drive down to see the Mudbugs play.
"We're very blessed," says Muscutt. "These kids all come from fantastic families and they bring character and a strong work ethic to the rink every day."