When you’ve been a defender in the NHL for 14 years, you get a sense of who is a challenging attacker.
Your job, after all, is to stop the guys who are trying to score.
Ian Cole has a good sense of what made the Vancouver Canucks tick offensively, both from playing against the likes of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, and from his teammates with top-end offensive talent.
Cole’s career resume is astounding when adding up the future hall of famers he’s counted as teammates, starting with this past season in Tampa Bay with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. Or Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar before that in Colorado.
And before that with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in Pittsburgh.
Cole looked at the Canucks and couldn’t figure out how they hadn’t been a more consistent playoff team.
“You look at some of the pieces here and you’re like, these are some unique players with unique skill sets,” he said, acknowledging the Pettersson, Miller, Hughes-led list.
“And Kuzy too,” he added.
He signed in Vancouver because he wanted to play with these top-end players and he believes he can help the team defensively.
“At 34 years old, I think last season was the best season I’ve played,” he said.
“I think, if anything, I’m at least as good, if not better, than I’ve ever been.”
In the summer of 2019 he had double hip surgery. He thinks that refreshed his playing ability and every season since, he’s been better and quicker.
He’s played in 748 career games, averaging about 70 games per season since becoming a regular for St. Louis in 2014-15.
He has lots of experience, he’s fighting fit and other than the hip surgeries four years ago, he says there’s little wear and tear on his body.
“I think I’m hitting that sweet spot,” he said.
Joining the Canucks was also about reuniting with familiar faces.
He knew president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and head coach Rick Tocchet well from three-plus seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
“Jim Rutherford, he traded for me, brought me to Pittsburgh. Obviously had a ton of success there,” he said.
Tocchet was a Penguins assistant tasked with running the power play and working with the forwards. As Cole was defensive minded, it meant they didn’t work together, but still grew close, he said.
“He was a great mentor to me and just a great hockey mind. You see how he’s transitioned to that head coaching role,” Cole said.
Cole said that Sergei Gonchar, who is the team’s defensive development coach, served in the same role in Pittsburgh. And he knew Adam Foote, Tocchet’s lead assistant coach, through his son Cal Foote, who was one of Cole’s teammates last season in Tampa and also shares the same agent, Kurt Overhardt.
“There’s a lot of connections there and a lot of guys that are really, really great hockey minds that have a ton of experience and that have not only coached but have lived that (success) and played that and done that before, so it’s really exciting.”
BORDER WATCH: Cole laughed when he talked about moving his family — including wife Jordan and two children aged three and one — to Vancouver. “It’s about as far as you can go from point to point in North America.” He had a hangup getting across the border because the moving truck they rented had to be returned in the U.S. But it was nothing compared to Braden Holtby’s efforts to get his turtles north ahead of the 2020-21 season. “We didn’t have any ferrets or cockatoos or any other strange household animals,” Cole said. “Vancouver’s a great city. Always loved the city.”
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