Michigan native will face team he grew up following for first time tonight
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Growing up roughly 30 minutes from Joe Louis Arena, Ian Cole can remember the days of being a follower of the Detroit Red Wings.
Cole, the Blues' 2007 first-round draft choice, remembers the days of going to see greats like Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman play. It was a way of life for Cole, who actually has played on the the home of the Red Wings while playing for triple-AAA Compuware Hockey Club.
But today, when the Blues play the Red Wings at the place they call 'The Joe' at 6:30 p.m., the 21-year-old Cole will be an active participant playing against the team he grew fond of.
With roughly 30 family and friends in attendance, including his parents Doug and Connie Cole, Ian Cole will line up opposite Lidstrom, and the feeling is one of excitement.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, playing against guys I grew up watching like Lidstrom," Cole said. "Idolizing those guys and now being on the same ice as them? I'm psyched."
Cole, on his second recall from the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate Peoria, said he "might have a soft spot in my heart for them." Them meaning the Red Wings, but he has traded in his Winged Wheel for the Bluenote and has no regrets doing so.
"I was a huge Red Wings fan growing up ... until I got drafted by the Blues and learned about the rivalry," Cole said. "Now I am not a Red Wings fan anymore. ... I am definitely not a Red Wings fan. And if they lose the rest of their games the rest of this year, I would probably be happy with that."
Cole, who has impressed mighty since his recent recall by the Blues on Dec. 3, will finally see his hockey life come full circle. But it won't hit him until he arrives at the arena for today's morning skate.
Cole, who credits both his mother and father for, "doing a huge part to help me get to where I am and driving me everywhere," has taken on the right path that has led him to this point of his career.
He still talks to his dad on a regular basis about the nuances of the game.
"He still think's he's Don Cherry and critiquing me," Cole joked. "He was like, 'You went into the corner with Rick Nash and he ended up walking out of the corner. You stayed on him pretty good, but you can't let him walk out. You have to finish him, take the puck and go!' I'm like, 'Dad, I know. It was one time. I was (mad), too. I can't let that happen.'
"It's always interesting to hear what the dad has to say about every game. My mom always says I play great. According to her, I'll be an all-star this year or rookie of the year."
A successful career at Notre Dame led to his being drafted by the Blues and then given a shot to make the big squad this fall. It's all happened quite fast.
But when it came down to the end, Cole was not on the list of the final seven defensemen that would open the season here. Cole was Peoria-bound, and he admits it wasn't what he was hoping for after being given a legitimate shot of making the squad out of camp.
But then the Blues were hit by injuries to blue-liners Roman Polak (wrist) and Barret Jackman (knee).
"It was definitely discouraging," Cole admitted about being sent down out of camp. "And the first time up, I kind of knew it wasn't going to be an extended stay. Guys were hurt, guys were coming back."
Cole was again sent down once Jackman was back and playing healthy. But then came another call. This time, the situation was a little different. No injuries. No immediate returns to Peoria. Maybe this time, he will stick.
"This time obviously Romy's hurt, but it's not like they have huge injuries (on the blue line) and guys are coming back," Cole said. "I think that if I can play well, I can continue to be here ... at least until Romy gets back.
"It still is definitely like day-to-day. They could send me back whenever and that's just as discouraging as it was the first time after camp, but at the same time, it's not like I'm not going to be here."
This time around, Cole has been making quite an impression. The right people like his progression, and the right people are taking notice. The right people are saying what Cole needs to hear.
"I think there's a confidence there in his game, a confidence that he can apply the way he plays and the game he brings here in the NHL," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "His game is good skating, real good reads off the rush, an ability to step up, angle and get into confrontations physically and have success in them ... just that poise and confidence.
"He's got a foundation that was built through his time in the American (Hockey) League. He knows what his game should look like now and he's getting to see that game will have success."
Part of that success has come with playing with a defensive partner that likes to help teach and likes to help communicate: captain Eric Brewer.
The two have meshed from the first time they played on a shift together. Both are lefties, but they've played so well together, that Brewer has no qualms about being the guy that plays on the right side -- his off-hand.
"He asks a lot of questions and he asks about those things that he's really not familiar with," Brewer said of Cole. "Some of the guys are a little more quiet and want to deal with it, but he has lots of questions. He likes to talk on the ice and on the bench and in the room. He's interested in all types of things. It works out good.
"His first instinct is really good and the type of play that he wants to make because it's usually the right one. It's just a matter of letting him know that, 'Hey, I have an option for you, but you make your play. You're making good decisions; just make a strong one.' ... I don't think he lacks any confidence, he just lacks familiarity. He's going to play in the NHL ... yeah, he's going to be in this league for a long time."
Cole has relished every moment spent with Brewer.
"He's been awesome. He's a great leader," Cole said. "Awesome guy as far as learning the game. I know people have been getting on him -- so I hear -- but he's a great player. He's been awesome teaching me how to be an NHL player. I can't say enough about how awesome he's been, such a great mentor as far as that goes."
Cole admits that his time in Peoria has been beneficial, but if he's not in it to strive to be an NHL player, then he's not cut out to be a pro.
Cole hasn't had the benefit of being here for a couple seasons like, say, 2008 No. 1 pick Alex Pietrangelo did. So he's taking full advantage of whatever time he may see here.
"I really didn't have that benefit," Cole said of Pietrangelo's two seasons of nine-game trials. "But this is helpful as far as the day-to-day operations. What's so drastically different is how everything works."
Cole doesn't want fans to get the impression he'll become the next Lidstrom or one of those offensive-minded star defensemen that put up points in droves.
"If I can end up being like Nick Lidstrom, that would be perfect. Do I think I'm going to be Mike Green putting up 80 points? No, I don't," Cole said. "But at the same time, I think I can add a little bit and help out in a limited role. I don't think I'm going to be a top power play guy. I understand that. I have no mirage's that I'm some offensive talent. I can make some plays, make some nice passes. I've got a pretty good shot. ... I can definitely be that tenacious, hard-to-play-against, in guys' faces, make them work for every inch on the ice."
Sounds a lot like, "Roman Polak," Cole said. "I think he's a great model for that type of player. He's tough to play against."
So now it's come full circle. Cole, who played against Mike Ilitch's Little Caesar's AAA squad while with Compuware at Joe Louis Arena, will finally go toe-to-toe with Ilitch's prized hockey team, the Red Wings.
Needless to say, looking up in the stands this time may mean a little more tonight.
"I think it'll be a little different being there this time," Cole said. "There might be a few more fans there than the 50 parents."