SUN Hockey Pool

Real warmth from Cole

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

When the Carolina Hurricanes traded Erik Cole to Edmonton, Cole immediately traded in his role as a largely ignored athlete in a third-tier sport.

He's an Oiler now.

That means he's a rock star.

He won't be playing fifth fiddle to NCAA basketball, NASCAR racing, NFL football and the occasional dog-fighting ring.

Forget about Duke, North Carolina and Dale Jr. In Edmonton, hockey is the religion. And the First Church of Hockey is filled to capacity every night of the season.

"My buddy (former Calgary Flame and Hurricane) Cory Stillman called me when I was traded here and said 'It's going to be great, you're going to love it,' " said the newly acquired winger, who's in town this week on a house-hunting mission.

"He was telling me that even in the summer, everything the Oilers do is front page news, that I'm really going into a great situation.

"I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity; it's a great time to be coming here.

"There are lots of reasons to be excited from a team perpsective heading into this season. A great young team, a great new owner - it's an exciting time to be a an Oiler."

It's always kind of exciting to be an Oiler. Playing in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal or Toronto is like being a Boston Red Sox or a Dallas Cowboy, or suiting up for Manchester United.

FRONT AND CENTRE

Even when the team is losing you're still front and centre in the city's consciousness. As you go, so goes the city.

In places like L.A., Phoenix, Florida, Carolina or any of the other southern centres the league shouldn't have expanded to, NHLers might as well be playing arena soccer.

"You've got three major colleges (in the Raleigh area), four if you want to count Wake Forest," said Cole.

"There's NC State, the UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. You've got people who have lived there for generations supporting one of those three teams. So there's a lot of competition.

"It's the Hurricanes' job to try to get fans from three different schools to come and be hockey fans. They've done a pretty good job of it. Two runs to the Cup in four years certainly helps.

"It's like a lot of cities: If you're winning, you're going to be a hot ticket."

CULTURE SHOCK

It's going to be something of a culture shock on a lot of fronts, but as much as he enjoyed Carolina, playing in Canada is an experience Cole is looking forward to.

"I'm an advocate of change, or change of scenery," said the 29-year-old, acquired last month in a trade for Joni Pitkanen.

"The cities are pretty similar, the only thing that's really different is the climate, and we were out of Raleigh in the summer anyway. It gets too hot there.

"In this situation we feel it's actually harder on the kids because they're sitting at home and we're telling them we have to take off and go find a place to live. My seven-year- old daughter thinks she's 15, so she wants a say in it. She's busting my chops a little bit, but we promised her a good room."

And snow.

"My kids are really excited that they're going to see a winter. I called my daughter yesterday and told her we were here and the first thing she asked was how much snow is there. I told her it won't snow till late October or November, then you'll be able to go outside and play in it."

His soon-to-be four-year-old son, meanwhile, is counting the minutes until he can get on the ice himself.

"The organization has a jersey for my little guy, Landon, so he's pretty excited about it. He can't wait. He's just starting out in hockey and loves being on the ice. We have him in a learn-to-play hockey class in Raleigh that he just loves, so he's going to have a heyday up here for sure."


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