MONTREAL – When Randy Cunneyworth cues up Tuesday’s game video at practice on Wednesday morning, there’s a good chance he’ll be making an example of Erik Cole.
Known for his gritty, heart-on-his-sleeve style during his playing days, Cunneyworth has made no secret that he expects that same level of passion from each of his players on a nightly basis. That’s exactly what he’s gotten from Erik Cole for 50 straight games.
Since signing with Montreal on July 1, Cole has not only met the lofty expectations that were heaped upon him; he’s exceeded them. In addition to leading the team with 19 goals and 39 points to date, the 33-year-old winger is also first among all Habs forwards with 119 hits and has earned himself a soft spot with Canadiens fans – and his head coach – thanks to his penchant for driving the net with reckless abandon.
“We need that from more guys,” confirmed Cunneyworth following his team’s 3-1 loss to Buffalo. “[Erik] is a guy who brings the puck to the net and he drives hard and we need more wingers and more forwards doing that. Guys can learn from that. That’s exactly what we want: take the step and catch a guy flat-footed. You want to get into that area and you’ll have guys following for rebounds and tough battles.”
Just one goal shy of registering his fifth career 20-goal season, the 10-year NHL veteran doesn't mind being used as a role model, but prefers to just lead by example.
“I can’t stand here and focus on what everyone else is doing,” explained Cole, who is also tied for second on the team with a plus-10 differential. “I need to worry about myself and worry about how I’m playing and what I’m doing. It’s up to each individual to worry about themselves and then as a group we can trust that everyone’s going to just come out hard every night and everyone’s going to be there to back each other up.”
Having quietly helped Max Pacioretty progress from rugged young winger to bona fide power forward since his arrival in the Habs dressing room, Cole has also played an integral role in making their line a consistent offensive threat. The secret to their line’s success? It takes a lot of work to make it look so easy.
“They’re great players and they’re doing things right,” explained Price, who turned aside 37 of the 39 Sabres shots he faced. “They’ve got the speed and they’ve got the will to go to the net and that’s how you get rewarded in this league. Now we just need everybody to try to do the same thing.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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