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Hall of Fame

Cam Cole: Hall honor 'hard to grasp'

Writer who covered Oilers dynasty winner of Elmer Ferguson award

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Cam Cole was in awe.

It was his first visit to Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He doesn't remember how old he was or what year it was. He does remember Gordie Howe being there.

But it wasn't the presence of Mr. Hockey that left Cole overwhelmed.

Making his way through the exhibits honoring Hall of Fame members, he found himself in front of the display paying tribute to the writers who had been acknowledged over the years as Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award winners: Milt Dunnell. Red Fisher. Scott Young. Jim Taylor. Frank Orr. The list went on and on.

"I looked and said: "These people are gods!'" Cole said.

All these years later, Cole, who spent four decades covering hockey greats in Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and everywhere in between, will join those wordsmiths he so admired, being named the 2017 recipient of the Ferguson Award. In typical Cole modesty, he's not sure he belongs.

The voters certainly thought he does.

"I keep thinking someone is going to do a recount," Cole said. "I mean, it's still hard to grasp.

"I can't describe what it means. If someone said to me that someday I would have my own little entry among these greats of our profession, I would have said: 'Come on, be serious.' I mean, we're talking about some of the greatest writers ever."

The Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award is by the Hockey Hall of Fame, "in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey." Recipients are selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

"I remember that day I saw some of the pictures of the past winners," Cole said. "That was so sweet. It was incredible to see them there. But it's beyond incredible to think my picture will be there beside them."

Wayne Gretzky says Cole belongs in that group.

"Cam deserves to be there," Gretzky, the NHL's all-time leading scorer, said. "He worked hard. He earned it."

Cole's 41-year career in sports writing began after he left Vegreville, Alberta to attend the University of Alberta, where he worked for the college newspaper, The Gateway. He began covering high school sports, soccer and the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Edmonton Journal, putting him in place to chronicle the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty years as the paper's general sports columnist.

Cole also worked in Toronto for the National Post and in Vancouver for the Vancouver Sun. He retired in 2016 after a distinguished career that included coverage of more than 30 Stanley Cup Finals.

Cole was part of an Edmonton media core that grew in prominence alongside that of the Oilers of the 1980s. Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun and Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, previous winners of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, also covered the Oilers of that time.

"Edmonton's a special place, a wonderful hockey town and a great sports city," Gretzky said. "Matty, Cam, Jonesy, you could go down the list. So many respected sports media went through Edmonton. It's a wonderful sports town and hockey city.

"In those days in the 1970s, 1980s, even the days Gordie was playing, the lifeline between the fans and players was the media, newspapers and TV. There wasn't talk radio. There wasn't Twitter. There wasn't social media. Fans knew that the way to get the pulse of the Edmonton Oilers at the time was the Edmonton Sun and the Edmonton Journal along with the local radio and TV stations. That's the way it was. The media understood that they were the outlet of the pulse of the hockey club, whether good, bad or indifferent.

"Cam was fair. If you weren't good, he would write you weren't good. And that was fine because he wasn't belligerent about it." 

One of Cole's trademarks was his moustache. Some reporters joked that he must have been born with it.

Cam Cole with his daughter, Kelly

 

"We didn't bug him about it because we knew he had the power of the pen," Gretzky laughed.

Cole's many relationships with general managers, coaches and players within the game gave readers the type of insight they couldn't find elsewhere. In fact, it allowed him to at times control the flow of a postgame media scrum.

"Cam and I had played competitive golf against each other when we were 17, 18 years old in the Edmonton area," Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "So it was different with him and I than it was for other reporters.

"We would be in the middle of of the most intense playoff series especially those gruelling ones against the Oilers," Hitchcock said. "We'd be 30 seconds into an interview with a whole group of guys, maybe 15 or 20 of them, and Cam and I would just start talking golf. A new golf course that was being built in Edmonton. Or a hole he liked on a course we both knew.

"It drove the reporters nuts because we would change the subject in the middle of the scrum and get off of hockey. They were standing there while we were having our golf discussion. They would have to wait until we were done to get their next hockey question in."

If Cole had one wish, it would be that Clare Drake could attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday.

 

[RELATED: Esteemed coach Drake to be inducted | Hitchcock: Drake a hockey genuius]

 

As a young reporter writing at the University of Alberta, Cole covered the school hockey team coached by Drake, who would go on to become the winningest coach in Canadian college hockey history, finishing with 697 victories and six University Cup championships.

A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, Drake, 89, lives in an assisted care facility in the Edmonton area and is unable to travel to Toronto for the ceremony. Instead, he'll watch it on television with wife Dolly and other family members.

"He was more like a second father to me than anyone I'd ever come across in my travels" Cole said of Drake. "He made everyone who was around him do anything not to disappoint him. He was like everyone's dad.

"It does mean a lot to go in with him. It would mean more if he was there. Hopefully he's able to process how much it means to the hockey world that he's in the Hall and how much it means to me to be going in there with him by coincidence."

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