We all fall in and out of love throughout the course of our lives, but for some, our greatest love finds us at a young age and never leaves. The love of the game came early and fast for St. Louis Blues‘ defenseman Ian Cole, pushing him towards an NHL future, one stride at a time.
“I obviously got into hockey at a young age like most guys. My dad played his whole life, not at a high level, but started getting me out there around 2-years-old, teaching me how to skate, the whole backyard rink thing, which was nice,” Cole remembered. “You obviously love doing it, fast forward a little bit more and I was put on a team. But it was definitely my dad that got me into it. It was his influence that got me out there, but once I fell in love with it, it was all over.”
Many successful players stem from families who have deep roots in the game, a sentiment that rings true to this day for Cole.
“Hockey is a family affair, my younger sister played all the way through high school, now she’s in college. My dad plays, although he just had hip surgery, so he’s on the metaphorical IR right now. My parents try to watch pretty much every game and they try to get down to St. Louis when they can. My mom loves it, so it’s definitely a family affair.”
For Cole, it was his fathers relationship with the sport that forged an early desire to stick with it. The good times between the pair span more than a father son relationship, but at a younger age, a player- coach one as well.
“When I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6, my Dad was my coach the first few years, he told me I was only allowed to score a goal a period, it was about teamwork, so I could only go end to end one time a period,” said Cole. “I was kind of mad at him about that, I liked to score goals but he put a rain on that unfortunately. It was kind of funny though, I was so mad about it and now, I’d give anything to score a goal a period.”
While family lends a glove in the development process, growing up, you love the game from a fan perspective as well. Idolizing players is all in a days work for a kid and Cole was no exception.
“Growing up in Michigan, I was obviously a huge Red Wings fan, a Steve Yzerman and Nick Lindstrom fan. I would say either of those, probably more so Lindstrom being that I’m a defenseman, he’s an absolute legend. Growing up, if I could have skated as anyone, it would’ve been him, he always struck me as interesting.”
The desire to defend the blue-line isn’t always at the forefront of a players mind, occasionally it needs a little coaxing. The drive to be a forward is often negated by lack in skill or space in the lineup. Switching positions when you’re young is normal, finding the right place on the ice takes time, but when you do, you never switch back.
“I started out as a forward, I switched when I first started playing AAA, I played a year up with the older kids and I was a forward, the coach was pretty much saying that I wasn’t good enough to be on the team as a forward, but they needed a defenseman, I don’t know if that’s actually what happened, but that’s how my dad recalls it. The coach said it a bit nicer than my Dad did,” Cole said with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of forwards, but you could switch to defenseman. I was maybe 10 and that’s why I got switched to defense, obviously it’s what I am now. When I was younger, I probably created more offense than defense – I could kind of see things. I’m not as offensive now as I was in my younger days, but I loved it playing defense and I never switched back.”
Dedication to succeeding comes from more than just the player, but the support network surrounding them on any given day. In the world of hockey, it’s the continued role a parent plays that ups the ante on the success rate.
“My mom and my dad, kind of cliche to say that honestly. You can’t say enough about hockey parents that drive you everywhere and sacrifice so much time and money to let you do something that you love to do,” said Cole. “Obviously a lot of parents do it, but in my eyes, hockey parents are the best. My parents have been huge and influential in how I’ve approached my personal life, hockey life and career, they’re my biggest role models.”
Support aside, often advice helps mold a young players mindset, benefiting development both on and off the ice.
“My mom always used to say ‘be sure to open as many doors as you can’, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s about being able to keep balance in your life, try to be academically inclined, I went to Notre Dame and my parents were a big component in that,” Cole said. “Not specifically that school, but the premise of going to college or university. My mom always said to give yourself options, focus on what you want to do and where you want to go in life. It’s about going through life with the opportunity to do things you want to do and not be forced into doing things that you don’t. I’ve definitely tried to open as many doors as possible, not only in hockey, but life in general. Great advice given by my mom.”
Taking the route similar to many of his American NHL peers, Cole found himself playing within the U.S. National Development program from 2005-2007. Cole’s time spent within the NAHL effectively led to being drafted 18th overall during the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis. In 2007, he became a member of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame, a university well known for it’s hockey team boasts both a prominent and memorable time in Coles’ young development.
“I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything, we actually just had a pro camp at Notre Dame, all the guys that are playing pro now went back and skated together. It’s a great group of guys, really cool to keep in touch with them and see them, more so than just the camp.,” shared Cole. “The whole climate of college hockey is awesome, you have the academics which are great, you get a college degree which is fantastic, Notre Dame was a high quality college degree. But the whole aspect of the lifestyle, learning time management, the amount of time you spend working out, you’re living with your teammates, you’re able to workout a lot more and develop mentally speaking. It’s a great opportunity for kids, I don’t think I’d be as well rounded as a player or as a person if I didn’t go to college or Notre Dame more specifically.”
Automatically skyrocketing into NHL success is a course of action held by few. More often than not, logging ice time in the American Hockey League is a necessary occurrence. An experience that Cole recounts is bouncing between the NHL and AHL at the beginning of his career and crediting the AHL for a significant learning opportunity.
“My first year I was up and down a lot, some ridiculous amount, nine times I think. I was called up, sent back down. My second year, I got called up halfway through and ended up staying up for the second half of the year. Last season, it was the lockout so I started down in the AHL, once the season started, I went back up for the remainder,” recalled Cole. “With the time I spent down there, it was great for me. This most recent season with the lockout enabled me to go into the NHL season already having played half a season – it was a great tune up. I was able to play in every situation, 30 minutes a night. The team wasn’t as successful during the first half as we would have liked, but me personally, being able to play that much and come into the NHL season ready to go was awesome, I enjoyed. The AHL has less of a business feel, you hone your skills and you’re put in situations that you might not necessarily be in in the NHL. Hangout with the guys, living with them, forming relationships, a great time too.”
At just 24-years-old, a list of accomplishments already floods Coles’ resume, but it isn’t the memories that fans can see on paper that come to mind, it’s the priceless moments that come spilling out when asked to share what he considers his greatest achievements thus far.
“There are a lot of great achievements throughout my career, if you can call it that,” laughed Cole. “When I was in college, my freshman year we went to the Frozen Four, played in a national championship game which was an amazing experience. Unfortunately we lost, but still it was a great experience. I’ve played in World Juniors twice, once up in Ottawa against Canada on New Years Eve which was the most electric building I’ve ever played in, Scotiabank Place was shaking, it was intense. Playing your first NHL game, your first playoff game, you’re faced with so many situations where you just want to pinch yourself and say ‘Is this really happening?’ Those are just some highlights.”
Not being in a Canadian city, or an original six team where hockey is a way of life, doesn’t mean that St. Louis should be discounted as a fantastic place to live, play and support the NHL franchise. With a devoted allegiance of fans that seems to grow on a yearly basis, being blue isn’t so bad.
“We have a reputation, Forbes put out rankings and placed us as the lowest valued team in the NHL, all that stuff, it’s hard. It’s a baseball town, everyone loves the Cardinals they’re the biggest thing in town, no question but we sellout basically every game. Maybe it’s not as big as the Cardinals fan-base, but we have an extremely knowledgeable, passionate fan-base that knows the sport of hockey,” said Cole. “It’s nice to play for people that appreciate someone that works hard and a team that works hard. A team that puts on their hardhats and wears a lot of teams down just by outworking on the ice. It’s nice to play for a city that values the kind of players we have on our team. A team that doesn’t give up, we aren’t an overly skilled team, but we have a lot of skill on it. It’s a great city, it’s a smaller city population wise, but you get to know a lot of people which is something you might not get in other hockey towns. It’s a good bunch of guys and we have a great time, making the season that much more enjoyable for us and the fans.”
With the season almost upon us and the summer quickly fading away, it’s no surprise that players, Cole included, are finding themselves itching to get back to the ice for another year.
“I’m just happy to get playing again. It’s been too long of a summer for us, losing in the first round is unacceptable in any regard. So getting back at it, working hard during camp and getting back out on the ice for regular skates,” noted Cole. “I’m really looking forward to picking up where we left off last season, take the momentum that we had and try to really push the envelope this season and extend the playoff run that we had. We want to get to the conference final, the Stanley Cup Final and win a Stanley Cup. A lot of pressure on us to achieve that sooner rather than later and that’s what we’re shooting for as a hockey team.”
With 82 regular season games about to face off in less than a month, the thought itself is exhausting. Living for the game and learning to accept the lifestyle is all in the job description, but busy spells, followed by lulls can prove interesting, or in Cole’s case, not so much.
“It’s kind of a weird dynamic, sometimes you’re super busy and other times you’re really bored. Then you have the times where you’re busy and bored at the same time. There’s a lot going on, a lot going on at the rink, but you can be busy and then have nothing to do the rest of the day. A lot of the guys play video games, I’m lacking in having cool hobbies, I don’t play guitar or anything unfortunately. It’s watching a lot of movies, hanging out with the boys, go out to eat quite a bit, just hang with the guys. That’s about it.”
Throw on a St. Louis game and you’ll be quick to notice the 6’2″ defenseman in the lineup,his opponent may hate him, but on ice demeanor doesn’t always reflect a players off ice personality. Spend a few minutes talking to Cole and you’ll be sold on his friendly, easy going, overall nice attitude.
“I like to be fun and have a good time. I’m not overly serious, I like to keep it light. I try to treat everyone the way I’d like to be treated, a concept my parents instilled in me as a kid. I try to be accommodating and treat people the way I like to be treated, it’s as simple as that.”
Want to know something else that’s simple? After learning about Cole, it’s the idea that St. Louis fans should be quick to love the defenseman donning a #28 sweater. With a genuine personality, skill and appreciation for those surrounding him, Ian Cole won’t make anyone sing the Blues anytime soon.