Cole relishes opportunity with Canadiens

For some, living under a giant microscope that every Montreal Canadiens player faces daily is a stress many can do without. But that anxiety never bothered Erik Cole, who signed a four-year, $18-million US contract with the team this past summer.
Montreal winger Erik Cole is banking that his six-foot-two, 205-pound fame will add size and speed to a small roster of forwards. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Montreal hasn't exactly been the destination of choice for NHL free agents in years past.

For some, living under a giant microscope that every Canadiens player faces daily is a stress many can do without.

But winger Erik Cole doesn't understand the anxiety. To prove the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad city like Montreal is overblown, Cole signed a four-year, $18-million US contract with the Canadiens in the summer.

"It's my favourite building to play in," Cole said on July 1, the day he signed with Montreal. "The feeling you get going into Montreal, the passion, the city, it just has an aura about it.

"I don't know how you can go in there and not play well. It's a passion that can drive the team north or south."

Once he knew Montreal was his destination, Cole sought out Habs captain and 2006 Team USA Olympic teammate Brian Gionta for some helpful tips.

"We talked about the city and how his family adjusted and he had nothing but positive things to say about the city, the team and the organization," Cole told the Montreal Gazette. "I think most of the players in the league would agree that Montreal is their favourite road city."

The 32-year-old power forward certainly has the statistics to back up his reasons for wanting to play in Montreal.

A Canadiens fan growing up in Oswego, N.Y., Cole has had some of his best performances against Montreal, scoring 14 goals and 25 points in 28 games as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes — tops of any team.

Cole is hoping for the same type of scoring production now that he's donning the Club de Hockey uniform.

The Habs sure think he is capable.

General manager Pierre Gauthier didn't hesitate in adding the extra incentive of a no-trade clause when luring Cole — no other GM was willing to throw that nugget into any potential contract.

Banking on his size

Cole, who registered 225 hits last season, is banking that his six-foot-two, 205-pound frame will add size and speed to a mostly small roster of forwards.

"I don't think it's a secret that the last couple of years Montreal has had a bit smaller players than a lot of other teams," Cole said of his new team, which had the 23rd-ranked offence in 2010-11, producing only 2.60 goals per game. "I'm not the biggest body on the ice, but I play a harder-nosed game than some guys and try to use my skating to be a strong player, be effective against the boards and take the puck to the net."

If the Canadiens are to get full value in their investment, Cole will need to be at his healthiest. Last season, he played a full 82-game schedule for the first time in his career, putting up 26 goals and 26 assists. His best season was 2006-07 when he tallied 29 goals and 32 assists in 71 games.

The American has suffered through injuries during his nine-year career, but none as serious as the compression neck fracture he had in the 2005-06 season. The injury caused him to miss 20 games, yet he still managed to score 30 goals.

Another benefit

One benefit to the Cole signing is the veteran's advice to fellow power forward Max Pacioretty on how to manage neck problems. Pacioretty endured a non-displaced vertebral fracture last season after Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara drilled him into a stanchion at the Bell Centre.

"He still deals with the situation to this day. Every day I work with him on different techniques to roll out the soft tissue on my neck, different stretches, different rehab exercises," Pacioretty told reporters. "He wants to help me out a lot and it's a good feeling because he's been through it and he knows what it takes to get to 100 per cent."

On the ice, Cole is expected to boost the scoring depth, especially playing alongside centre Tomas Plekanec and winger Mike Cammalleri — a problem that was Gauthier's No. 1 off-season priority to solve.

"It's a player who fills a need on this team," said Gauthier. "He's fast, big and likes to go to the net. He's a good complement to our finesse players."

With files from The Canadian Press