Erik Cole is looking forward to having Montreal Canadiens fans cheer his name instead of curse it.
Cole, who signed a four-year, $18-million US deal with Montreal on July 1, wore his new No. 72 Canadiens uniform for the first time Thursday while taking part in a children's hockey school at the team's suburban practice facility.
A thorn in the side of the Canadiens whenever he faced them in his nine-year NHL career, mostly with the Carolina Hurricanes, Cole will now try to carry the spark he always got from playing in Montreal over to the storied franchise's home dressing room on the other side of the Bell Centre.
"Hopefully I can have as much success with them as I've had playing against them," said Cole, who spends the summers with his wife and children at their cottage in Norwood, N.Y., a two-hour drive from Montreal.
The 32-year-old forward said friends and acquaintances there used to ask him how his team was doing. He has been surprised to find out their true hockey allegiance since he signed with the Canadiens.
"Everyone's reaction there is just excitement," Cole said. "You wouldn't believe how many Habs fans there are just across the border."
Fan of Hockey Night in Canada
Cole, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, used to listen to Canadiens games on Hockey Night in Canada while growing up in Oswego, on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.
"I've said it before, the passion here is unbelievable," Cole said. "Lots of times when I'm asked about why I play well here I say it's because of the passion and the atmosphere that's here.
"It's probably the one arena that when I would come here you'd never want the door closed to the locker room before the game while you're waiting to go on the ice. You always want it open. You always want to hear and be able to enjoy it."
The familiar No. 26 he wore with the Hurricanes — as well as during a brief stint with the Edmonton Oilers — is already owned by Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, so Cole chose his new high number because it is the one he had while playing junior B hockey in Gananoque, Ont.
A junior in high school at the time, Cole remembered the toll he and his father paid on the road — mostly heading north and south along Interstate 81 — to securing a college scholarship to Clarkson.
"Ninety-six miles, one way," Cole said. "My old man and I put a lot of miles on the car that year."
That dedication led to being a third-round pick by Carolina in 1998. After making it to the Stanley Cup finals as a rookie with the Hurricanes in 2002, Cole broke his neck on a hit from behind by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik 60 games into the 2005-06 season.
Sidelined for Carolina's playoff run that spring, he returned to play the last two games of the Hurricanes' seven-game win over the Oilers in the Cup final.
Cole hasn't had any contact yet with Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty, who broke a cervical vertebra on a devastating hit by Boston captain Zdeno Chara on March 8. Cole, who sought advice from veteran Gary Roberts during his recovery, said he sent a text message to Canadiens captain Brian Gionta after Pacioretty's hit to let him know he could contact him with any questions.
"I'm going to take the approach to let him be unless he asks for some advice, for some help, or if he wants to have some questions answered," Cole said.