Erik Cole said it didn't take long to realize playing for the Montreal Canadiens would be different than his many years with the Carolina Hurricanes.
It wasn't so much having new teammates, or new systems to learn, or adjusting to the whims of coach Jacques Martin. Or dealing with the Canadian media, which can be suffocating.
"I knew everyone cared so much about hockey in Montreal," Cole said Tuesday. "But I was picking up my kids from school one day and the school custodian says, 'Why does the coach hate you so much?' I was completely shocked by the question. I said to my kids, 'In the car, let's go!' "
"That's when I knew it was a different place."
Now 17 games into the season, Cole is more comfortable with his situation. He's getting more minutes, being more productive.
"With Carolina, I was always going, going, going, getting in on the forecheck," he said. "Here, with the systems it's more read and react. But I'm getting more opportunities now and my confidence has grown."
Tonight, he'll be on the other side as the Hurricanes face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. A free agent after last season, Cole couldn't come to terms with the Canes and accepted a four-year, $18 million contract from Montreal.
It was the first time Cole left the Hurricanes, who drafted him in 1998, of his own volition. Carolina traded Cole to the Edmonton Oilers in July 2008 for defenseman Joni Pitkanen.
Short stay in Edmonton
Cole would play 63 games for the Oilers before being reacquired by Carolina in March 2009. The most memorable: Nov. 1, 2008, when he returned to the RBC Center with Edmonton to face the Canes.
It won't be the same tonight at the Bell Centre, he said.
"This second one will be easier," he said. "At the RBC Center, I knew everyone. I always came in the back of the arena and walked to the right (to the locker room). It was tough going back.
"This is an arena I've gotten used to. My comfort level has grown. It will be different, for sure, but these are the games you can have fun in because you know all the guys and they are a great group of guys."
Last season, Cole was a big brother/mentor for Canes forward Jeff Skinner, then an 18-year-old rookie.
"As a rookie you can sort of be intimidated by the veterans," Skinner said Tuesday. "To have a guy like that come up and be so welcoming, it just sort of puts your mind at ease and helps you as much mentally as he did physically with showing me the little things - body positioning, things like that."
Slow start for Staal
Much of last season, Cole was the right wing on Eric Staal's line. His speed and power on the outside helped open up ice for Staal, and Cole scored 26 goals.
Staal is off to a slow start this season, although he has a goal and two assists in the past two games after being shifted to left wing on Brandon Sutter's line.
Cole said he had not heard about Staal's move to the wing, but had been asked numerous questions about Staal's start.
"My answer is that everyone needs to relax," Cole said. "Eric is the type who puts a lot of pressure on himself at the start of each year and wants to come out the gate really, really hard and be the guy to carry the team.
"Maybe this year, with me not there or whatever, it's different. But Eric will be fine."
Happy in Montreal
As for Cole, he and his family are happy in Montreal. The media has been fair, he said, although that can change.
"You have to go through that to fully appreciate it," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, who coached the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons. "You lose a few games and they go down the list of how much you make and how much you're producing and they talk about it every day."
Cole did not score a goal and had one assist in his first seven games, but Martin was blamed by the media for not playing him more.
He has four goals and three assists in the past 10, scoring a power-play goal Monday in Montreal's 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Cole, who had a season-high 19 minutes, 28 seconds in ice time, created a stir early in overtime when he bumped into Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth and was penalized for goaltender interference.
The Sabres still were steaming over the concussion suffered by star goalie Ryan Miller when he was flattened by Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.
"Playing 18 to 22 minutes a game alongside Eric Staal and then playing 12-13 minutes here made it tough at first," Cole said. "I felt good most nights but it was an adjustment. But all in all, it's been great."