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Summer with Stanley

Ian Cole brings Cup home to Ann Arbor

Penguins defenseman takes nostalgic trip Friday through hometown with family, friends

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ian Cole sat on a bench outside BTB Burrito on Friday, his buddies eating lunch inside like they used to do in high school. A woman came by with her bike, spotted something shiny through the window and screeched to a stop.

"Is that the Stanley Cup?" Nicky Waldeck, 21, a senior soccer player at the University of Michigan and a Chicago Blackhawks fan, said.

"Yeah," Cole said, smiling.

"Is that, like, a closed …"

"No. Hop in there. Go get a picture."

"Really? I'm even wearing my Blackhawks shirt."

"I know. You have to take that off, though."

He laughed and offered to watch her bike, and she left it behind and raced in.

"It's tough to beat the allure that the Stanley Cup has," Cole said.

Cole, 27, became the first player born, raised and trained in Ann Arbor to win the Stanley Cup when the Pittsburgh Penguins won it in June. So when the defenseman had his day with the Cup on Friday, he brought it home and shared it with friends, family, fans of the Penguins, fans of other teams, everyone.

"This is where you were having those dreams of winning the Stanley Cup when you were a kid," Cole said. "To be able to bring it back here and getting to share it with the people I think is huge, especially the first time."

Cole grew up in Ann Arbor rinks. He learned to skate at Yost Ice Arena, skated outdoors at Buhr Park, did power skating at Veterans Memorial Arena and played for the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association at the Ice Cube.

When USA Hockey put the National Team Development Program at the Ice Cube 20 years ago, the Coles were among the first families to billet a player. They billeted eight over the years, and Cole grew up watching his billet brothers play, wanting to be like them.

And he did it.

He played two years for the USNTDP, and the St. Louis Blues drafted him No. 18 in the 2007 NHL Draft. After three years at Notre Dame and more than four years with the Blues, he found a home in Pittsburgh. He played all 24 games of the Penguins' Cup run, scoring a goal in a 3-1 win in Game 4 of the Final against the San Jose Sharks.

At Cole's parents' house Thursday, his wife, Jordan, spotted a framed 8-by-10 photo near the TV and the couch. It almost brought tears to her eyes. It was Cole lifting the Stanley Cup over his head on the ice in San Jose.

"It still doesn't seem real," Jordan said. "And that's kind of what this whole crazy day has been about, and it's just so cool."

Cole took the Cup to places meaningful to him.

He took it to Angelo's, an Ann Arbor institution famous for French toast and a line out the door. When he was learning to skate, the kids would take the ice as early as 5 a.m. The Cole family often would go to breakfast at Angelo's afterward. So the family went there Friday morning, the Cup shining at the center of the table.

He took it to BTB Burrito with his buddies from Ann Arbor Pioneer High, because that was their go-to lunch spot. They're still his buddies. It's still a go-to.

"He is the exact same guy," Mark Silverman, the best man at Cole's wedding, said. "Nothing has changed. That's why we love him. He makes a lot of money, he has a pretty awesome job, but he's still our friend from Ann Arbor we grew up with."

He took it to the Coach and Four Barber Shop, where Gerry Erickson has been cutting hair for 44 years - and where Erickson used to sharpen skates too. Erickson used to do both for Cole.

But Cole also took the Cup to places that created meaning for others.

He took it to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan and the Ronald McDonald House, which serves families of children in the hospital. Children came in wheelchairs and toy wagons and their parents' arms, and Cole chatted and posed for pictures.

He held Owen Saba, a 5-month-old who was going home Friday after a 40-day stay for open-heart surgery, as the baby's father, Fareed, a Blackhawks fan, snapped pictures of the baby and the Blackhawks' names on the Cup.

He spun the Cup around like a top for Travis Rathman, a 20-year-old having surgery for fluid on the brain. Rathman was at Joe Louis Arena when the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002. So Cole showed him where the 2001-02 Red Wings' names were engraved and where the 2015-16 Penguins would be.

"Did you get photos?" Rathman asked his attendant. "Did you get photos?"

"Yes," the attendant said. "I got, like, 10."

Chris Dickinson, the chief medical officer at Mott, has known Cole since the defenseman was five or six years old. He played rec hockey with Cole's father, Doug.

"It just means a lot," Dickinson said. "People know and love it, and to have a local guy be able to not only get to the show but be a major contributor on a Cup-winning team? Wow."

Everything came together at the Ice Cube. Cole brought the Cup to a private room for family, friends, former teammates and former coaches, then carried it onto the very ice where he used to play and greeted the public.

Hundreds of people stood in a line that snaked down the hallway and back again. The first in line were brothers Tyler and Ron Dively and their cousin Taylor Dively, Penguins fans from suburban Detroit. They arrived at 9:30 a.m. for the 2 p.m. event -- and wore penguin suits.

Cole's mother, Connie, wore his Penguins sweater to the Ice Cube. Her eyes were red with emotion, not just for her son winning the Cup, but for what he did with it.

"When he was a little kid, I just told him always that God gave you a gift, and if you work hard with it, your dreams can come true -- and he gave you a gift to use it well after your dream comes true, to pass it forward," she said. "So I'm proud of him as a human being and as an athlete.

"So, yeah. Amazing stuff."

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