THN: "Sweet Carolina"
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
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
“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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