It's a brief trip, but a busy one as Erik Cole hits Edmonton for the first time since becoming a member of the Oilers. He has been here before, of course, as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final; he most vividly remembers the atmosphere around Game 6, a game that he says "wasn't all that memorable" for the Canes (4-0 win for the Oilers). First and foremost Cole and his wife are here to buy a house. The Cole's will be making the move together with their 2 young children sometime in late August. They're looking to find a house fast because they need to get back to New York for their son's 4th birthday party this weekend.
Chatting with Cole this morning at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert, where he made a stop to sign autographs for the young participants in the Oilers Hockey School, it didn't take long to realize that he and his family are truly eager to start their new life in Edmonton. "There's a big buzz and everyone that I've talked to within the organization is really excited about the upcoming season," Cole said. "The way they finished last year, it's an exciting time to be an Oiler. My wife and I are really excited to be here."
"It's an opportunity that we're embracing and a change that we're embracing. I think that it's gonna be great for my career and great for my family to have a little change of venue and come here to a great hockey city."
It makes the transition easier knowing that a move was likely in the works and not entirely unexpected or unwelcome. "We kind of expected that something might happen," Cole recalled. "As much as guys maybe say they'd like to stay in one place their whole career, things don't always go your way or things kinda get stale a little bit.
In the 2 years since the Chris Pronger departure there has been an added emphasis on the happiness of Oilers players and their families away from the rink. The Oilers recently added Jill Metz to their staff to serve as a full-time liason with the families to assist with everything from schools to babysitters. For his part, Erik Cole is excited about the move for his whole family. "I'm excited for my son," says Cole of his soon-to-be 4 year old youngster. "He's a hockey fanatic so he's gonna have lots of opportunity here to have some fun and get on the ice."
As for the change in climate from Raleigh to Edmonton? "It's still the same game out there," Cole says with a slight chuckle. "My wife and I are both from upstate New York so we're not immune to the cold weather; we might be a little soft right now." TEAM TALK
On the ice, Cole will be looking to rediscover the form he had the year the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006; Cole scored 30 goals and had 59 points in 60 regular season games. Last year he had 22 goals and 51 points in 73 games. With the coaching staff adamant right now that the kid line of Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson will stay together to start the season, there's a decision that needs to be made about who will play left wing on the top line. Will it be Dustin Penner or Erik Cole? "Whatever's gonna work best for the success of the team is how it's all gonna play out," mused Cole. "Throughout the course of the season there's gonna be lots of ups and downs regardless of who's playing where and with who. Just because things may be set at the start of a season a lot of times that's not the way it's going to stay throughout the course of a season. It's more important to just look at the top 9 and you get a sense of what kind of talent and capability there is."
Cole is also hoping to make an impact in the locker room. He's got a very friendly demeanor and is extremely articulate; those are 2 traits he hopes help lead him to a bigger leadership role than he's had in the past. "I'm looking to play a bigger leadership role on this team," he says. "You look at our roster and there's a lot of young guys. I go from a team where I was middle of the road to maybe even one of the older guys and now I'm an old goat in the room."TALKING TOUGH
There's no question that the Oilers were motivated by captain Ethan Moreau to play a more physical game up front last year. The emergence of Zack Stortini as a light-heavyweight, the energy from now departed Curtis Glencross and the 25 game stint that Moreau was healthy for contributed to a grittier identity for the forward corps. That said, there's still a question mark about how "team tough" the Oilers are and it's no secret that the management made a bid earlier this summer to attract a heavyweight enforcer via free agency. Cole certainly won't fit that bill, but he does bring an edge to his play that should fit in well with the style that Moreau will try to instill in the group once again. "I try to play a physical game, not just for myself but I'm trying to open up areas on the ice for my teammates," says Cole. "I think that with the right mixture in our forward lines that I can certainly help out and be productive."
That said, the game is different in the Western Conference. When Craig MacTavish put the kid line together for their first meaningful stint of the season last year, it was during a January road trip to the Southeast Division where Cole played the last 6 seasons. Part of the reasoning behind the move was that the defenseman in the Southeast would be less physically demanding to play against and players with smaller size, like the kids, wouldn't have as much of an issue as they might have in the West. So, I asked Erik if he felt it would be more difficult to play his game in a division that is, arguably, more punishing physically. "I'm not too worried about having to change my style because of somebody I'm playing against," Cole mused. "I like being able to stare right across to the same guy every faceoff that I'm on the ice and just battle with him."
There have been numerous questions and concerns from fans who feel that the injury plague that the Oilers have suffered through the last couple of years has been a consequence of a lack of toughness or a true enforcer. Cole, who has been through his fair share of injuries as well, has a different take. "I don't think anyone really understands just how hard it is to go to the Stanley Cup Finals," Cole starts. "When I was there in '02 I was a rookie, and I played a lot of hockey that year. Then I came back the next year and was just a band-aid; everything hurts. You don't realize how much you're going to hurt on a day-to-day basis. So, I think that would have a lot to do with the injuries that have occurred over the last couple seasons."Dan's Dish:
Cole comes in with 1 year remaining on his contract that will pay him $4 million for this season. That has everybody wondering about a possible extension. "We're coming here with the intention that we wanna stay here and hopefully have a great year and the Oilers organization is gonna want to keep me here," Cole says. But, he admits: "I don't think there have been any talks so far." You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 8 to 11 on 630 CHED.