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Cole practices with full shield

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pens defenseman Ian Cole returned to full practice with his teammates on Monday afternoon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex while wearing a full-face shield to protect his injured mouth. 

Cole, who missed the past three games with the injury, could possibly return for the team's Tuesday contest in New York against the Rangers.

"He'll be a game-time decision," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I talked to him after practice and he said he felt pretty good. We'll see how he responds to this practice."

Cole, 28, was injured while blocking a shot against Nashville on Oct. 7. The Predators' Roman Josi unleashed a heavy blast that struck Cole in his mouth, knocking out three teeth and shattering the bone sockets above the teeth.

"I got pretty lucky as far as not breaking my jaw and breaking my teeth off with the gum line," said Cole through a gap-toothed grin. "The doctors did a great job, kudos to them for saving my mouth. It actually hasn't been too bad.

"It hasn't hurt for a while."

Cole, who had never lost teeth playing hockey before this incident, set a Penguins' franchise record with 194 blocked shots last season, which ranked 3rd in the NHL. The play was instinctual and he had little time to react as the puck was coming at him.

"It was just enough time for me to register 'oh (crap) this is really going to hurt,'" he said, "and then my ears just exploded. Not much time to react."

Cole wore a half-visor, half-cage while playing collegiate hockey at Notre Dame. So wearing a full-shield isn't a completely foreign experience.

"It's a little weird looking down and seeing the cage. It's not too bad," he said. "I'm going to wear it as long as the docs tell me to. I don't know exactly how long that'll be. It is a little less visually pleasing than a visor. When I'm able to I'll take it off."

Wearing the shield also has its benefits, such as making Cole's job easier when it comes to blocking shots. 

"I've got full armor on," Cole said. "I've got no problem now." 

Following the injury, Cole was able to continue skating and maintaining his conditioning, though eating did pose it's own problems.

"Eating has been a little weird. A lot of liquids," said Cole, who ate a lot of smoothies and soup. "I lost a little bit of weight. … Crushed a lot of rice cakes too later in the week. Nice and soft, they melt in your mouth."

As for his three missing teeth, he still has them. And he has big plans for them.

"Tooth fairy," he joked. "I'm going to get some good coin for those ones, nice full adult teeth."

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