BOSTON--Ian Cole made his NHL debut at the Boston Bruins on Nov. 6, 2010 and tonight he will play his 500th game in the league against the same opponent in the same building.
Through 499 outings, the Colorado Avalanche defenseman has recorded 22 goals and 100 assists, notching helper No. 100 on Nov. 30 in the Avs' 7-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
He was selected in the first round (18 overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues and played his first 167 outings with the club before the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him during the 2014-15 season.
The rear guard became a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins after he helped the club win in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017, the first franchise to win consecutive championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
He recorded 59 points (nine goals, 50 assists) in 218 regular-season games with the Penguins and added seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 outings with the Columbus Blue Jackets before signing with the Avs as a free agent in July 2018.
"It probably means I should have gotten there about three years quicker if we are being honest," Cole joked of the milestone. "But it's good, having longevity in your career is something that is good. I mean 500 games is good, it is far from where you want to end up as a player, I think 1000 games is a goal for pretty much everybody. So, you know, we are going to keep going and hopefully 500 more games are around the corner."
Video: Ian Cole talks about playing in his 500th NHL game
The game has changed since the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native entered the NHL, and he has had to be able to adjust and mature with the league.
"The game has definitely evolved," said Cole. "It's gone from a lot of big guys occupying a lot of space to very much a speed and skill game and it's changed very quickly--I would say over the past three, four years, maybe five years--it's really turned the corner to go that direction. Still a physical game, still a lot of physicality in the sport, but it's a speed and skill game now and you need to adapt and change as a player. Everyone is doing it. But it is pretty cool, first game here and 500th, that's pretty cool."
Before his NHL career began, Cole spent three seasons playing with the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With his alma mater playing at Boston College on Friday night, the defenseman was able to attend the game and reminiscence about his time playing college hockey.
As a freshman at Notre Dame, he helped the team reach its first-ever Frozen Four and first national title game. He followed it up with a strong sophomore season, leading all Irish blueliners with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists).
He was named to the CCHA First All-Star Team and the NCAA (West) First All-American Team, the first Notre Dame defenseman to be named an all-american since 1999 (Benoit Cotnoir). Cole added 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 30 games as a junior and signed his first NHL contract with the Blues at the conclusion of the campaign.
"Notre Dame was great for me. Academically speaking, it is one of the best universities in the country. Athletically speaking, we had a fantastic hockey team," Cole recalled. "Great coaching staff, taught me a ton, really helped kind of mold my mindset into what it is now as a hockey player. It is something that I look back on with very fond memories of my three years there. I would recommend it for anybody that wants to go that route, in my mind Notre Dame is the best school in the country."
Currently in his second season with the Avalanche, Cole has recorded 25 total points (two goals, 23 assists) through 94 outings with Colorado and is a trusted veteran among a young group of blueliners.
Video: COL@VAN: Cole beats Markstrom with one-timer
With the NHL constantly progressing, the desire to continue to grow and be the best player he can be to help his team win is something Cole has focused on as he approaches his next milestones.
"I think that as a player you continue to try to get better, continue to try to kind of advance I guess or develop as a player," he said. "I think anytime you stop trying to get better you are done, your career is over. It is something where I think that good players always try to get better.
"I mean Nate MacKinnon is not sitting back in the summer just being like 'ah I am pretty good, I am done, I am good, I am set.' Anytime you do that, you are not moving forward you are moving backwards. So, I think that even at 30 years old I am still trying to get better. I am still trying to learn more. I am still trying to become more complete and a better player."
Philipp Grubauer will be between the pipes this evening. He has played against the Bruins three times in his career and owns a 3-0-0 record with a 1.32 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in those outings. The Rosenheim, Germany, native has also won three straight starts, posting a 1.67 goals-against average and .943 save percentage during this stretch.
Nazem Kadri will miss his second game in a row with a lower-body injury while Vladislav Kamenev will come back into the lineup. Kamenev missed the last two outings with an illness and will play on a line with Tyson Jost and T.J. Tynan.
Matt Calvert will be out versus the Bruins as he is on personal leave. Head coach Jared Bednar noted that Matt Nieto will take Calvert's spot on a trio with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Valeri Nichushkin.
Colorado and Boston wrap up the season series tonight. The Avs won the first matchup 4-2 on Oct. 10 in Denver. The Avalanche is 5-0-1 in its last six games versus the Bruins and 23-10-2 since moving to Denver in 1995-96.
The Bruins won the last meeting between the clubs in Boston by a 2-1 overtime win on Feb. 10, snapping Colorado's 10-game winning streak in the city. The Avs did earn a point though to extend their 13-game point streak in Boston (11-0-2), 11 wins, 1 tie, 1 OTL).
The Avalanche has won five straight outings, matching its longest win streak of the season (Oct. 3-14). The team is also 10-3-0 in its last 13 games.
The Avs have won a season-high three straight road contests and entered the weekend as the highest scoring team in the league, averaging 3.68 goals per game.
Colorado has scored a short-handed goal in each of its last two games, something the squad did once last season (Dec. 4-6, 2018). With another tonight, the Avs would equal their longest stretch with a shorty since moving to Denver (three games, Oct. 15-24, 1998).