RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes did something yesterday they haven't done since March 4.
They practised with Erik Cole.
It was 11 weeks ago that Cole, one of the most dominant players in the National Hockey League at the time, was slammed into the boards by Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a hit that almost turned Cole into a paraplegic.
Orpik was given a three-game suspension, and tried to apologize to Cole. But Cole will have none of it.
"I've never talked with him," Cole said after practising with his teammates, who take on the Buffalo Sabres in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference final here tonight.
"He tried to get in touch with me through Mark Recchi some time around the end of March," Cole said. "I think it was the day that I got put in the big brace. I got upgraded, I guess, from the collar to that big brace in the hope of avoiding surgery.
"And after the week that I had, and after the three weeks I had, when Rex came up to me and asked if he could pass along my number to Brooks, I told him no. I told him not to bother."
Cole is angry not only because of the hit, but because of the way Orpik reacted when speaking after the incident. He feels that Orpik took a cavalier attitude and instead of showing remorse, adopted an attitude of: "It's a contact sport and it's unfortunate."
As far as Cole is concerned, there was no need for the hit. He had already scored two goals that night and the Hurricanes were in control. The five-minute mark in the third period had just passed, and he was dumping the puck into the zone to make a line change. As he did so, he started to fall, turning his back to Orpik. At that point, Orpik ran him into the boards.
"My whole take on it," Cole said, "is it happens a lot, especially as a forward, and especially with the new rules. Not being able to hold up, you see a defenceman's back a lot. It's your decision to bury him into the glass or you let up and you carry him in, or you wait a second. You let him turn, you bump him, whatever.
"He made his decision to bury me.
"I am saying you make decisions out there. You either play the game with respect for other players, or you don't. That's the way I see it."
Cole spent the night in a Pittsburgh hospital -- a long, difficult night.
"It was pretty tough to hear the doctor come up to you and tell you that you are lucky, really lucky," he recalled. You don't feel that lucky sitting on a gurney with a broken neck, but it could have been much worse.
"It took maybe a couple of days for that to settle in, for that to sink in, but once it did, you really put it in perspective.
"There are two fractures in the vertebrae -- one that comes down from the top and the other one comes up from the bottom and turns into the spinal canal. How that bone didn't go ahead and enter the spinal canal is, I don't know, is lucky."
And if it had?
"If it had, then I would probably be a paraplegic."
Cole has been travelling with his teammates throughout the playoffs, and that has eased his frustration somewhat, but his recuperation has not been easy.
"The whole process has been pretty miserable at times," he said.
"But the last probably 21/2, three weeks have been really progressive and they have been fun. It has been nice to get out of the big cervical thoracic brace and into the little collar and it seemed like right away I was working my way out of it.
"Every day it seems to get better and better. I just hope that the healing is going along with that."
In 10 days or so, Cole will undergo further tests and it is possible, though not necessarily probable, that he will be cleared to play.
If it should happen, he doesn't intend to avoid contact.
"I think I will probably go out there and look for a first hit before I let someone come into me." he said.