Cole Predicts Big Hurricane Season

Cole Predicts Big Hurricane Season

The following season article on former Clarkson forward Erik Cole appears on the Web site. The preview story can be accessed by clicking here. 

By John McGourty Staff Writer

Erik Cole expecting big things from himself this season and he's bound and determined to bring the Carolina Hurricanes along with him.

Cole is approaching 2007-08 with a vengeance because he isn't happy about the ‘Canes decline from '06 Stanley Cup champion to finishing out of the postseason in '07.

From a personal standpoint, Cole posted career highs with 32 assists and 61 points and his 29 goals were one off his career high. But personal numbers seem hollow when compared to the Hurricanes falling short in the 2006-07 playoff hunt.

"I had a good year, but I think I can do better," Cole admitted. "I don't feel that I was as consistent as I was prior to my neck injury. At times I was, but not consistently. I think there's another level I can get to. Last year was frustrating as a team because of issues that we didn't deal well with that we had in the season prior. It was a difficult year for many of our players, myself included."

Cole, of course, suffered a broken neck when checked from behind in a March 4, 2006 game against the Penguins. He returned three months later in the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers as the ‘Canes won the Stanley Cup.

Casting an eye on repeating as champs, Cole was determined to get off to a fast start last season, but that didn't happen.

"Last summer was a tough one, in terms of conditioning," Cole said. "I had elbow surgery the week after the Cup ended. I had one big bone spur and chips in the joint that I'd had for years. As a result, I couldn't do upper-body work until the end of July. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I thought the injury layoff allowed me to come back fresh. I wanted to come out of the gate and have a great October and relieve pressure on other guys. Instead, I scored on opening night and not again for 10 games."

It's been said many times that teams that win championships often forget how hard they worked to get there. Cole found that to be true.

"My neck, my elbow, everything felt pretty good and it was good to get back in the rink every day," Cole said. "But I didn't realize how sore I'd be day-to-day. In summer, it's hard to remember how hard it is to play in this league, let alone coming off a neck injury."

Cole is a veteran of Pete Friesen's conditioning program for the Hurricanes. It's no easy program, but it sets up players for a year of hard play, traveling and dealing with nagging injuries.

"I'm used to Pete. I spent extra time with him in my very first trip to Carolina," Cole recalled. "If you've never gone through it, it's going to hurt you. My first prospects camp was pretty intense. Pete let me know that my best chance to make the team was to spend the summer with him. I trained like I never trained before. Now, I'm used to it and know what to expect.

"We lost the Stanley Cup Final in my second season here and I thought I was working pretty hard. Coach (Paul) Maurice came to me and said; 'We need more from you.' I remember thinking; ‘More? Holy cow, I'm dying out here!'"

When not sweating this summer, Cole spent part of his free time preparing for his "Score for Oswego" charity golf tournament. The fundraiser aided the restoration of the historic Oswego, N.Y., library last year and the Oswego Minor Hockey Association this year. He's setting up the Erik Cole Dream Big Foundation to assist his philanthropic efforts. Cole and his wife, Emily, are raising daughter, Bella, 6, and son, Landon, 3, in upstate New York.

"Oswego is a great hockey town," Cole said. "I played Oswego minor hockey until I was 17, then played a year for my high school team. Then I went across the St. Lawrence River to a small Ontario city, Gananoque, to play in the Rideau Junior B league. Oswego minor hockey needs a great amount of support and we're hoping to reduce the costs for some of the families."

As for the Hurricanes' prospects this season, Cole believes Carolina will have a much improved season now that Matt Cullen is returning, Jeff Hamilton has been signed and Ray Whitney had his shoulder repaired.

"Whitney had 83 points, pretty impressive on an absolutely bum shoulder," Cole said with admiration. "Ray is one of those guys that if something is bugging him, you don't always see it. He's a really good professional in that regard. If he's hurting, maybe he's a little more quiet. He said he wanted to be a bigger part of things after dealing with groin issues the year before. He came in with an attitude that he would be a leader and make things happen and he just ran with it. It was impressive to see him put his mind to it and go out and do it, be the leading scorer."

In his three seasons at Clarkson, Cole played against Yalie Hamilton and admired his skills. He's glad to have him as a teammate.

"He's a very good player, a smart player," Cole said. "I thought we were set at that third center position, but he's able to play all three forward positions. He's very gifted with the puck and will be a very welcome addition.

"Matt Cullen and I sat together in the dressing room the year we won the Cup," Cole continued. "He's a dynamic player who can do a lot of things. Once he was given an opportunity here, he ran with it. We have that bond you have when you win a championship together. He'll boost our depth at forward."

Cole is very enthused about the development of Andrew Ladd and said this could be a big year for the big right winger.

"I thought last year would be that year because of the way he broke through during the playoffs, but he also found it tough to come back and recreate that energy," Cole said. "He worked hard in August and September in the gym and on the ice. He looked great. I'm excited to see him this summer because he's filled out more and gotten stronger. I've wrestled him and he's one tough kid, for sure."

Cole attended Eric Staal's wedding this summer and said he expects even more production after Staal had 30 goals and 40 assists last season.

"I'm expecting Eric to play at a level above where he was when we won the Stanley Cup," Cole said. "He was dynamic that year and everything that we expected he'd be, only sooner. He is well on his way to absolute superstardom. I wouldn't be surprised if he exceeded 50 goals and 50 assists."

Cole often plays alongside center and captain Rod Brind'Amour. He's one of his biggest fans and someone Cole has tried to emulate in his preparation for the game.

"Early on in his time in Carolina, he deferred to Ronnie Francis, the captain," Cole said. "Rod showed respect. It's been great to watch him take this captaincy. He leads by example and he does a lot of little things behind the scenes and in conversations. Rod's one of the best leaders I've ever played for. There's no doubt in my mind that he's ready to have another great year, offensively and defensively."

If the Hurricanes play their best this season, what will that get them? They finished behind Atlanta and Tampa Bay last season. Washington is greatly improved and Florida was one of the NHL's hottest teams late last season.

"Tough division. We won, then Tampa Bay won. Then, we won. Then, Atlanta broke through and won the division. Washington has a lot of good players, a superstar and a great goalie. Every year, I think this will be the year Florida will be tough to beat," Cole said. "Our division is going to be as competitive as any in the NHL and it's getting more recognition.

"The 32 games we play against our division are the most important ones we play. It may be hard to believe that in October and November but those are the games we need to win. We have weird results in our division. We struggle against Tampa Bay but Atlanta owns them. Florida had a ton of success against Tampa Bay but we spot Florida three goals and come back to beat them. It's hard to explain."