Edmontonians may not have been entirely familiar with Erik Cole when it was announced on July 1 that the Oilers had acquired the power forward from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for blueliner Joni Pitkanen. But Cole was very familiar with Edmonton – and Oilers fans in particular.
It was Cole’s Hurricanes that defeated the Oilers in seven hard-fought games to clinch the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship but for most of that series Cole was on the sidelines and watching from the press box – out with a broken neck suffered in March of that season.
“It was impressive to see the atmosphere at Rexall Place. To sit up top with the other guys that weren’t dressed for games three and four and watch that from above – watch the atmosphere and watch the fans – it was definitely a different perspective,” Cole remarked, noting he may have soaked up the game ambience even more so than some of his current Oilers teammates who were on the ice.
“When you’re on the ice and inside that glass you’re almost sheltered from it. I don’t think the guys quite realized just how intense it was and how great the fan support was.”
Playing and living in a non-traditional hockey market in North Carolina the past six seasons, Cole also noticed that support for the team was not limited to the confines of Rexall Place.
“Every time we went out to dinner you could see the fan support everywhere.”
It was also during the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals that Oilers management first took serious notice of Cole. He had missed the entire playoffs that year after breaking his neck on a blind side hit three months earlier. Incredibly, he willed himself back into the lineup in time for game six at Rexall Place.
"He's a wonderful person," Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe said shortly after the team acquired him. "He's a big body, skates well and fits into our game plan."
So what does Erik Cole bring to the Oilers? Three consecutive seasons of 22 or more goals with 29 in 2006-07 and 30 in 60 games during his injury-shortened 2005-06 campaign for starters.
The 29-year-old power forward was born on November 6, 1978 in Oswego, New York. At age 20, the Carolina Hurricanes made him their third pick (71st overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
|Edmonton Oilers' Erik Cole, left, digs for the puck as Calgary Flames' goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, from Finland, kicks it away during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Calgary, Friday, Oct. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Jeff McIntosh) |
“I had a good year of junior hockey, then followed that with a move to Clarkson University. I had a good freshman campaign (31 points in 34 games) and believed that I was going to get drafted somewhere,” he said. “I was a bit of a late bloomer.”
Cole racked up 129 goals through six seasons in Carolina – the third-most in franchise history. He was also a part of the 2002 Hurricanes team that came up short in the Final.
“Being able to have a chance to play for the Cup in my rookie year was pretty special,” Cole commented.
To add to his overall experience, Cole was also selected to represent the United States in their 2006 Olympic quest in Turin, Italy and their 2007 World Championship quest in Moscow, Russia.
“The Olympic invitation that year was something that really boosted my game and boosted how I felt on the ice and how I carried myself,” he said, noting that it was a big factor in his breakout 30-goal campaign.
Cole was also the first player in NHL history to be awarded two penalty shots in a single game (against Buffalo November 9, 2005) – a product of his speed and ability to drive to the net.
Playing alongside Shawn Horcoff
and Ales Hemsky
throughout the Oilers pre-season, Cole quickly found a role in the Edmonton lineup.
“Seeing him at the rink now it’s like he’s been here for five years already,” remarked Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish early in camp. “He’s quickly become an Oiler in a very short period of time.”
Teammate Shawn Horcoff
“He’s got a great shot, great speed down the wing and he’s got some grit to him and we think he’s going to be a good fit,” said Horcoff.
For several years now, the Oilers have been searching for just the right combination of linemates to skate with Horcoff and Ales Hemsky
. According to Hemsky, Cole just may be that player.
“Erik is a really fast player and very strong. He’s probably one of the top five power forwards in the League. He can make plays and score a lot of goals, too,” said Hemsky. “It’s really fun to play with him.”
|Colorado Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote, right, battles with Edmonton Oilers right wing Erik Cole in front of the Avalanche net during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta, on Sunday , Oct. 12, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jimmy Jeong) |
As much as the Oilers are happy to have him, Cole is thrilled to be a part of one of the most dynamic young teams in the NHL.
“It’s exciting to play with two of the premiere players in the League. Horc being an all-star last season and Hemmer who should be mentioned in every breath with the top players in the game. I feel I’m getting more and more comfortable with them,” he remarked, noting that he had his eye on the club last season.
“At the end of last season I found myself flipping through the NHL Center Ice package trying to find their games to watch to see if they were going to sneak into the final playoff spot.”
Having been a resident of the city for several months now, Cole has noticed that the support for hockey is year-round in this part of the world.
“It’s a little different from the ACC Football and ACC Basketball which are certainly big programs in the Raleigh market. Every day you wake up and it’s there, you go to sleep and it’s there. It’s everywhere you go,” he said. “No detail goes unnoticed.”
Living in a hockey market is nothing new for Cole. His home town of Oswego sits on the edge of Lake Ontario about 250 kilometres east of Buffalo.
“We had our opportunities to be out on the pond. I remember being out there with my brother’s friends, getting shoved around quite a bit,” he said, noting that his brother being a hockey player is what got him into the sport. “My hometown is a great hockey town. Cold weather, lots of snow, three rinks available for minor hockey and it’s got a good following.”
Cole stays in touch with his hometown through a number of charitable efforts, namely his Dream Big Foundation which promotes youth hockey, libraries and hospital expansion among other endeavors in Oswego.
For Cole, he can now draw on that hometown experience as he begins a new chapter of his playing career in one of the most hockey mad cities on earth.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to play in a great hockey town,” he said. “It’s a very storied franchise.”