THN: "Sweet Carolina"

Lesedauer: ca. 2 Minuten

While others around him inside the Carolina Hurricanes dressing room

whoop it up excitedly, celebrating a championship that only 24 hours

earlier seemed decidedly improbable, a sweat-soaked Erik Cole sits

quietly in his stall removing his shin pads.


A 28-year-old native of Oswego, N.Y., Cole seems almost oblivious to

the noise and excitement that surrounds him, slowly removing his

equipment as if he had just finished Game 23 of the regular season.

There is barely room to move, yet Cole is somehow able to find solitude

in his own little world, the spray of champagne drenching those around

him.


While his thoughts are with what his team has just accomplished,

winning the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game series against the

Edmonton Oilers, he also reflects on a near-tragedy that threatened to

end not only his season, but also his career.


“What was the worst night?” Cole says. “It’s tough to pick out one

night in the first two weeks of the process. The first two weeks were

just miserable. I could barely get out of bed, and when I did, I’d head

straight downstairs to the couch. I couldn’t even have my kids sit on

my lap…it was just miserable.”


Cole suffered a broken neck after Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik

rammed him from behind into the boards March 4. In the midst of a

career year with 30 goals and 59 points in 60 games, the 6-foot-2,

200-pound power forward suddenly had bigger things on his mind than

playing hockey.


“One of the first couple of nights I was home, there was something on

TV about some high school kid who suffered a football injury and was

paralyzed,” Cole recalls. “They showed on TV what could have happened

to me, and it was like, ‘Holy crap!’ It really showed me what could

have been and made me that much more appreciative of what didn’t

happen. Just under the three-week mark I went to see a specialist who

said he wanted to do surgery on me, and it was like, ‘What?’ It was

supposed to be 6-to-8 weeks and now this guy wants to do surgery on me?

It was tough.”


And so was his rehabilitation. At first, Cole didn’t know if he’d be

able to play hockey again, never mind make a stunning return in Game 6

of the Stanley Cup final. But as things progressed, so did the slim

hope he would be able to rejoin his teammates in their quest for

hockey’s holy grail.


(By Mike Brophy)



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