Habs fishbowl like Oilers for Cole

Canadiens forward Erik Cole will play at Rexall Place Thursday night for the first time since he...

Canadiens forward Erik Cole will play at Rexall Place Thursday night for the first time since he was traded from the Oilers in 2009. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency file photo)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 PM ET

EDMONTON - Erik Cole represents a distant past for the Edmonton Oilers, having played with the club the last time they came anywhere near a playoff spot.

Surprisingly, the Montreal Canadiens winger has yet to play a game at Rexall Place since his departure from Edmonton nearly four seasons ago.

Cole will make his return Thursday when the Oilers host the Canadiens.

“I was back once with Carolina, but I was injured,” Cole said Wednesday following the Canadiens practice.

“Last year I got a chance to play the Oilers in Raleigh, which was good,” he said. “I got a chance to have dinner with a bunch of the crew the day before the game. But lots has changed from my standpoint for sure, and certainly a lot of changes have gone on here as well.”

Cole would hardly recognize the crew in the Oilers locker room now.

Only a handful of players remain from that 2008-2009 squad, which was actually in a playoff position before Cole was shipped back to the Carolina Hurricanes for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round pick.

The Oilers ended up missing the playoffs by six points, they went on to fire head coach Craig MacTavish and have not been anywhere near the top eight in the conference since.

Cole, meanwhile, went on to struggle through an injury-plagued season with the Hurricanes before bouncing back with a solid campaign the following season, leading to a free-agent contract this year with the Canadiens, where he’s continued to play well.

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Oswego, N.Y., native had 47 points in 67 games, playing on the Canadiens top line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.

He had just 27 points in 63 games during his brief tenure with the Oilers.

“That whole line, with his leadership, has been dictating how we want our forwards to play and our wingers to drive. He does that every night,” said Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth. “He’s a great example of how to play the wing and how to drive hard. He’s a power forward and we’d like to see more guys emulating that. He’s been a leader both on and off the ice.”

In fairness to Cole, he was only a couple of years removed from a serious neck injury when playing with the Oilers. He was just starting to hit his stride when dealt by the Oilers back to the Hurricanes, where he had been acquired in exchange for defenceman Joni Pitkanen the previous off-season.

With the Canadiens, Cole is back to playing the type of reckless hockey he was known for during his early days with the Hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the team hasn’t followed suit, and the Canadiens are in a similar position to the Oilers, essentially playing for pride with the playoffs out of reach.

“My season has been OK, but it’s hard to sit here and try and get excited about anything that’s gone on personally when as a group we’ve struggled,” Cole said. “It’s tough to look past things like that. The team comes first and our struggles certainly out-weigh any accomplishments.”

Regardless, Cole, 33, is enjoying his time in Montreal, and playing in a fishbowl similar to the one he was in with the Oilers.

“I don’t think it’s too much different,” he said. “I think my time here (Edmonton) helped me with the transition with life in a hockey-crazed market. It hasn’t been a bad transition in that sense.

“I think I really knew what to expect heading into Montreal, having played against them in the playoffs. In particular you see it in the playoffs. When you’re playing well and the team is playing well, all the positives come out and if they continue and the confidence grows and it seems like the sky’s the limit. On the exact flipside of that, when things aren’t going well, and there’s the losses and negativity, all the negative comments come out it does the same thing and it filters it all in downward spiral.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest


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