PITTSBURGH--Ian Cole had a busy summer, but he didn't do what you probably think a professional athlete does in their offseason.
There were no fancy excursions planned or vacations on the beach. His five months between games involved him sitting on the couch or training table rehabbing his surgically repaired hips. Then it was working out every day in the weight room to be ready for the start of the season.
Cole's hips had been bothering him for quite some time, and while it was nothing serious, this past summer presented the best opportunity for him to get both cleaned up. The 30-year-old had one surgery on May 20 before having his other one worked on about a month later.
"I was on crutches for a month, then got to walk for two days, then went back in and was on crutches for another eight weeks," Cole said. "Three months on crutches, not being able to do anything, pretty much going from my bed to my couch and back to my bed was not an ideal first three months to the summer and not a great way to stay in shape."
Once he was cleared to start his offseason training regimen, his focus turned to building back strength and getting his timing back.
Video: Ian Cole talks about returning to practice
What was originally reported as a possible December return to the lineup soon appeared to have been a too conservative estimate. Cole has skated every practice day since the club opened training camp on Sept. 13, and he gradually started participating more and more in team drills as a non-contact participant.
He finally shed his colorful no-touch sweater on Oct. 7, making his return to the lineup imminent.
"I think at this point it is just a matter of comfort, like how things are feeling," Cole said following his second full practice last Wednesday. "Today at practice they felt pretty good, and we're going to keep trying to iron out some of the finer details of the skating, and just the hip mobility. Hopefully that will come along sooner rather than later. I'm not going to speculate as to the timeline, but hopefully sooner rather than later."
His long journey back to game action finally came to a head on Monday when he made his season debut at the Washington Capitals. Through his hard work and dedication over the summer, the veteran defenseman only missed four games with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs seemed to ease Cole into his first contest since the Stanley Cup Playoffs in May. He was paired on the backend with Ryan Graves and finished with 15:57 of ice time.
"Just tried to keep it simple and get back into the flow," Cole said after his first game of the season. "So it was great and now just try and get more comfortable as we go."
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Cole undoubtably expects more from himself, but he also likely understands that getting back to his old game wasn't going to happen in one night. However, it probably won't take too much longer given how motivated he was in the offseason.
"My whole job this whole summer, for the past five months, was to rehab and get back healthy as quickly as possible," said the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native. "It wasn't to go on vacations, and it wasn't to go to the beach and enjoy the summer. It was to rehab and get better as quickly as possible. That was my sole goal this summer, and I think you are seeing the results of that."
Cole deserves plenty of credit for getting back into game action so quickly, but he admitted it wasn't just him. It took a team of trainers to get him game ready and help him contribute to the high aspirations that the team has this season.
"I had some great people working with me here," he said. "Our trainers have been fantastic, and I have some good genes from the parents, apparently."