RALEIGH — From all appearances, it would seem Erik Cole and Joe Corvo have little in common.
Cole is a power forward for the Carolina Hurricanes, while Corvo's a puck-moving defenseman. Cole's voice often can be heard in the locker room, while Corvo moves about the room quietly. Cole has one modest tattoo ("My kids' names," he said) while Corvo has much more ink. (Think Texas Rangers slugger and Raleigh native Josh Hamilton.)
But as the two bonded as friends, Cole and Corvo also grew to share a common role as leaders of a young Hurricanes' team angling for a playoff berth. Given Corvo's low-key introduction to the team, though, that appeared an unlikely role for the new Hurricanes defenseman three years ago.
When Corvo was traded to the Canes from the Ottawa Senators in February 2008, Cole recalls then-coach Peter Laviolette welcoming him to the team before his first game.
"Lavy was giving his 'Let's get going speech,'" Cole said. "He then said 'Corvo, what's your name? What do you like to be called?' Everyone expected a nickname, because everyone in hockey has a nickname."
Cole said Corvo sat for a second or two, staring straight-ahead.
"Then, in his monotone, he said, 'Just Joe,'" Cole said.
"Everyone had to laugh at that," Cole said, smiling.
Cole soon made it his business to get to know Corvo, talking to him, kidding him, hanging out with him. He even decided on a nickname for him.
"I told him his name would be 'Lucky,'" Cole said.
Corvo wanted to know why. Cole said he wore No. 77, so why not "Lucky."
Three years later, the two are the best of friends. Both players were traded away briefly by the Hurricanes - Cole to the Edmonton Oilers, Corvo to the Washington Capitals - only to return to Raleigh. Now they often ride to games and practices together. Their kids play together.
"He's a great guy once he's comfortable around you," Cole said.
At the Jimmy V Celebrity golf tournament last summer, the two showed up wearing the most garish golf shorts imaginable. They also dress alike on the road, where stylish suits and ties are the norm.
"Once he started hanging around me, he asked where I got stuff," Cole said with another smile. "Then he'd go get the same stuff so he'd look as sharp as I do."
Kidding aside, the two also have been a big part of the Canes' success. It began last summer, when the two trained together before joining teammate Chad LaRose in organizing informal workouts at the RecZone before the beginning of training camp.
A year ago, Cole broke a leg in the second game of the season and later was sidelined with an upper-body injury, missing 40 of the first 60 games. This season he has played all 60 games and has a team-leading seven game-winners among his 17 goals. He's playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen and has 153 hits.
"I think being healthy has had a lot to do with it," Corvo said. "During the summer, we worked really hard, and he said he was feeling strong. And he's on the line he wants to be on, with the responsibility."
Corvo, the Canes' oldest player at 33, always has been among the fittest. At 6 feet and 204 pounds, the Oak Park, Ill., native looks like he could play strong safety for his hometown Chicago Bears.
Corvo leads the Canes defensemen in goals (9) and points (31) while playing almost 25 minutes a game. He also has been more outgoing this season, laughing and smiling more and exhibiting more positive body language.
While Staal is the team captain and Brandon Sutter and Tim Gleason serve as alternate captains, Corvo and Cole have done their part as leaders.
"As one of the oldest guys on a young team, I have to feel some sense of responsibility and leadership," Corvo said. "You try to make all the guys in the room comfortable. You can go one way or the other. I think it's better if you say 'hi' to everybody in the morning and give some pats on the back. It helps in the long run. I think it was a conscious decision in my mind, something [Cole] and I had talked about."
Cole, 32, has three winning goals against the Atlanta Thrashers this season, two in overtime. On Friday, after former captain Rod Brind' Amour's jersey was retired, Cole banged in a shot with three minutes left to lift the Canes to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the RBC Center.
"He has looked big and strong, and he has played well," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "I think he's back with that comfort level with Staal. Now they're both skating and to the point they can put a little fear in the other team."
The night after being the late-game hero, Cole had a minus-4 rating Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. But when asked to field questions after the game, he didn't hide out in the locker room or blow off the media request, coming out for a few minutes to talk.
Cole more or less shrugs off his penchant for coming up with big goals this season.
"In some of those games, we might have been two or three goals ahead and the other team scored late," he said. "But it really doesn't matter who scores the goals or when. We need goals, and we need wins."
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