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Cole Proving He's Worth The Gamble

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
The Blues traded up to draft Ian Cole with the No. 18 pick at the 2007 NHL Draft.

Ian Cole was shaking.

It could have been nerves. After all, he was eligible for the NHL Draft, and the Chicago Blackhawks were less than one minute away from making the first overall selection. But it wasn't nerves. Not right then.

It was his cell phone vibrating.

He reached into his pocket as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood at the podium to deliver an opening statement.

Cole looked at his phone. Erik Johnson, last year’s top overall pick, was calling. Suddenly Bettman’s introductory speech, which signaled the start of a very important day for Cole, wasn’t quite so crucial.

Cole answered.

"I'm just calling to wish you good luck, bud," Johnson said. Although they never played organized hockey together, Johnson and Cole often visited the same rink in Ann Arbour, Michigan. But Johnson also wanted to make a friendly bet.

“If you are selected in the Top 20, you owe me a hundred bucks,” Johnson said.

In the NHL’s Central Scouting Rankings, Cole was charted at No. 81 amongst North American-born skaters, a third round pick. Against those odds, it was a pretty safe bet for Cole to take.

“I kind of took it with a grain of salt,” Cole said. “I didn’t put too much thought into it.”

But after trading with Calgary to move up to the No. 18 spot in the draft, the Blues called Cole’s name.

“It was awesome,” Cole said, recalling his emotions on draft day. “I was trying not to fall when I was going up there. I was trying to get out of the bleachers, trying to take my coat off and not drop it. My mind was just a blur. So many feelings were just rushing through. I was just trying to go straight.”

By then, Cole was ecstatic. As he set foot on the stage, he shook hands with Jarmo Kekalainen, the Blues Director of Scouting, in addition to General Manager Larry Pleau and President John Davidson. He pulled a Blues jersey over his suit and put a Blues cap on his head before he posed for a photo with team management.

Forget that he’d just lost $100. This photo was worth 1,000 words.

He was a St. Louis Blue, and somewhere, wherever he was watching, Johnson smiled.

“I just had an itch, I don’t know what it was,” Johnson said about his prediction that Cole would be a first round pick. “There wasn’t a ton of d-men available, and from what I’ve seen, he was certainly capable of garnering a [first round] spot. He’s solid and he’s got a good offensive upside. It’s untapped, but there’s a lot of upside there.”

Cole was introduced to the game at a very young age. His father, Doug Cole, built a backyard rink at their home in Ann Arbour, were a young Ian spent many nights outside under the flood lights, learning basic skills from his father and playing pick up games with neighborhood friends. Doug, who plays as a defenseman two nights a week in a recreational adult league, helped mold his son into the player he’s become. As the saying goes, like father, like son.

But Cole laughs at the idea that his dad might have taught him everything he knows about hockey.

“All of (my dad’s) buddies tell him I got my athletic ability from my mom, because it sure as hell didn’t come from him,” he says with a grin.

But deep down, he’s fully aware that his dad’s interest in hockey rubbed off on him. He’s grateful for his dad’s dedication to helping him become a better hockey player, citing the fact that his father never hesitated to drive him to 5 a.m. practices when he was old enough to play organized hockey.

As a young hockey player living just an hour outside of downtown Detroit, Cole visited Joe Louis Arena several times a year to watch his beloved Red Wings play. In his early teenage years, the Red Wings were winning Stanley Cups with guys like Steve Yzerman and Mike Vernon, and seeing that success only helped further Cole’s desire to one day play in the NHL.

Ian Cole participates in a Development Camp Scrimmage (Photo by Mark Buckner).
“It was a very influential time for me. The hometown team was causing so much excitement,” Cole said. “It was going through the town, city and state. Everybody was excited about hockey. I was excited to be there.”

But Cole, now property of the St. Louis Blues, couldn’t still root for the Red Wings, could he?

“Not anymore,” he says. “I don’t even watch them anymore. The Wings are done.”

And that’s good news for Blues fans, who will have to wait awhile before Cole puts on a Blues sweater for anything more than a prospect camp. In the meantime, he’ll showcase Notre Dame’s blue, gold and green. For him, playing for a top college program like Notre Dame will be imperative to his development as both a man and a player. He intends to spend four years in South Bend to obtain his degree, but added that he’s open to leaving early if the Blues think he has developed enough to turn pro.

“We’re trying to build a stable organization that has everything we look for in players,” Davidson said. “With Cole, this guy is a man. He’s a huge guy, he’s got a big shot and a ton of character.”

One conversation with Cole is all it takes to convince a person of his maturity. He exhibits confidence while admitting that there is still room for improvement. Today, he watches individual players and aims to model his game after guys like Ottawa’s Wade Redden, for his solid positioning and hard shot from the point, and Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell, for his intense, solid all-around defensive play.

“I’m a solid two-way defenseman. Real solid in my own end, plays real intense, plays with an edge,” Cole said, trying to describe his game. “I can make a real clean outlet pass, hit guys on breakaways. Real good in transition, and I can add into the offense. Shoot for tips, that kind of thing.

“I think I get better every game. As the season went on last year, I got better, more consistent and I think that’s something the Blues liked. Hopefully it turns out that they made a good choice.”

So as with most prospects, the Blues have to wait.

And speaking of waiting, Johnson still has yet to receive the $100 from the bet he won on draft day.

“He should pay me,” Cole said with a laugh. “I’m a poor college student and (he is) getting the maximum contract.”

Seriously, though.

“Maybe in about five or six years,” Cole said. “When I’m financially secure, maybe I can give him a hundred bucks.”
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