Although it may be Halloween, that wasn’t a costume Erik Cole was wearing at the RBC Center today.
Cole practiced in the unfamiliar blue and white of his new team, the Edmonton Oilers, as he returned to the place where he spent the first 418 games of his career. When the Canes traded him to the Western Conference for Joni Pitkanen in July, few would have predicted the schedule would have him back this soon.
Even though he admits to feeling some nostalgia as he entered the arena for the first time since last season – he came through the front door rather than the one he entered countless times as a Hurricane - Cole says that he’s done his best to move on with his career since leaving North Carolina
“I took some time to reflect in the couple of days after the trade,” he said.
“I think once I left town, there was a reason that I took just six days of chaos to pack my things and get up to New York
and not come back.
It was to leave things here, start fresh and move on.”
Instead of dwelling on the past, Cole, sporting a shiner and some stitches around his left eye as a result of a recent fight with Vancouver’s Mattias Ohlund, said his main focus now lies with helping the Oilers reverse the current five-game winless streak that has cancelled out their 4-0 start to the season.
"Given our team’s situation right now, I think this is going to be a great game for us to come out and just play hard and have some fun," he said.
Cole only has one goal and one assist in nine games with Edmonton, currently the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, but hopes a recent switch to his more natural right wing will help change that.
He started the season playing on the left side of the Oilers’ top line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff, but is expected to play on the third unit with Marc Pouliot and captain Ethan Moreau tomorrow.
Unfortunately, he won’t be able to square off against Pitkanen, who is sidelined with a torn meniscus. Nevertheless, the Canes defense will do the best it can to neutralize someone they’ve seen plenty of over the years.
“I think the biggest thing with Erik is making sure you’ve got somebody that can contain him off the wing,” said Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s big and strong, and we’ve seen all too many times where he lowers his shoulder and takes it to the net. We’ll try to get the match-ups that we’re looking for out there and do our best.”
While the experience will be a new one for Cole, his long-time linemate in Carolina, Eric Staal, knows a thing or two about playing against someone he knows well.
”Over the last four years he became close to a brother,” said Staal. “Just seeing him in the room and being on the road and getting to know him and his family very well - it’s going to be probably the same sort of feeling that I have against my brothers.”
When asked about his positive memories with the Hurricanes, the 2006 Stanley Cup, ironically won against the Oilers, obviously topped the list. But it wasn’t the only thing Cole is thinking about after having to revisit his past so soon.
“I spent a number of years here, raised a family here and was involved in a lot of community relations,” he said. “A lot of things like that are going to help someone grow as a person and a player. We were surrounded by some pretty special people that have come in this league, and to sit on the bench with Ron Francis was a pretty amazing thing.
”Obviously I’m thankful for my time here, but that time has passed.’