The last time the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup was in 2001. Since then, things haven’t gone quite so well for the club, with failed first round attempts and several seasons of not making the playoffs at all. In fact, until this season’s victory over the Calgary Flames, the Avs hadn’t had a playoff series win in over a decade (their last series win before this season came via a 2008 Quarterfinals victory over the Minnesota Wild).
Needless to say, the Avs don’t have a lot of Stanley Cup rings in the organization right now. In fact, when Patrick Roy shockingly resigned as head coach in August of 2016 (mere weeks before the start of the season), four Cup rings walked out the door right along with him. Two more rings reside with General Manager Joe Sakic who was captain of the aforementioned 2001 championship team.
While having a few rings in management is bound to be inspirational to the young Avs group, it isn’t as inspirational as having a few in the locker room would be. Until just recently, the Avs were missing a valuable ingredient for playoff success: veteran leadership with Stanley Cup pedigree. Of course, that was before Ian Cole came along.
Not to undervalue Colorado’s offseason acquisition of goaltender Philipp Grubauer (part of last year’s Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals team). Grubauer has been amazing for the Avs this season, and his arrival did bring one Stanley Cup ring to the club’s locker room.
Even so, Grubauer wasn’t exactly a major part of the Caps’ playoff success last season; he only played in two postseason games and didn’t win either of them. Ian Cole, alternatively, was a huge part of two very recent Stanley Cup championship runs.
Back-to-Back Stanley Cups With the Penguins
When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, one significant contributor on the back end was 6-foot-1, 219 pound defenceman, Cole, who is not only a big guy but he also plays a big game.
Not one to devour massive d-man minutes and chip in big goals, Cole does provide 18-19 minutes of solid and reliable play each night and occasionally gets in on the scoring.
Where Cole really contributes to his team’s success, however, is in his strong defensive play and by helping to wear down the opposition with his tough, physical game. In 24 games in the 2016 playoffs with the Penguins, Cole blocked 52 shots and landed 49 big hits. During the Pens’ subsequent 2017 Cup run, Cole played 25 games, blocking 62 shots and throwing 44 hits.
Unfortunately, before Cole could help the team bring home a third straight Stanley Cup in 2018, GM Jim Rutherford (in a somewhat surprising move) saw fit to send Cole packing just days ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Seeing how the Penguins were effectively manhandled by the Capitals a few weeks later in the second round of the playoffs, there had to be some offseason second guessing about moving on from Cole. His services were missed against a very nasty Capitals team (especially players like Tom Wilson), and what the Penguins got in return didn’t help them.
New Season, New Team
After a brief stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets late last season and an even briefer period in which his rights were owned by the Ottawa Senators (the team the Penguins traded him to) before that, Cole signed as a free agent with Avalanche in the offseason.
Since joining the up-and-coming Avalanche team at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, Cole has fit right in, playing 71 regular-season games and contributing his usual quantity of minutes, blocks, and big hits (Cole averaged 19:45 of ice time this season and blocked 178 shots while landing 107 hits).
What’s more, Cole’s production has kept up extremely well in the playoffs. While averaging 19:57 of ice time per game through the first seven games (up slightly from the regular season), he’s blocked 20 shots and laid 10 hits. If the Avs are going to be successful through the remainder of the playoffs, they’ll need Cole’s contributions to continue, as well as the leadership by example that he brings to the club.
Cole’s Leadership an Example to Young Avalanche Defence
With only a few exceptions (Cole being one of them), the Avalanche roster is still extremely young. The team’s core, in particular, has the bulk of its career ahead of it.
Gabriel Landeskog is just hitting his prime at 26 years old; Nathan MacKinnon is 23; Mikko Rantanen is 22; and future defensive stars Samuel Girard and Cale Makar are both only 20. Clearly, the organization has a bright future.
Related: Avalanche Sign Makar
As for Ian Cole, at 30 years of age he’s certainly not ancient, but he has seen a lot and done a lot in an already highly successful NHL career. Colorado’s younger d-men can only benefit from such knowledge and experience.
Judging by Cole’s comments in an interview with NHL.com, when he was asked early in the season how he was enjoying his time with the Avalanche, he seemed more than happy to be a part of the young squad: “It’s been great. Love it. The guys are awesome, so it’s great to get here and get going.”
With the potential to mentor players like Gerard and Makar going forward, Cole could have a far more significant impact on the future of the organization than what he brings statistically.
One area where Cole will have to tread lightly, however, is in not taking too many bad penalties. Though not a wild man by any means, he did take the occasional bad penalty this season when he racked up 115 penalty minutes in 71 games (shattering his previous career-high of 76 PIMs).
He was also tossed out of a game against the Anaheim Ducks last month for a dangerous knee on knee hit on Devin Shore, which may or may not have been accidental. Either way, nobody wants Colorado’s younger players to learn from that example, but if Cole can keep his nose relatively clean going forward, he could help the youthful Avalanche to go far, in this season and the future.