RALEIGH — Erik Cole wore a red jersey Wednesday at Raleigh Center Ice, like a flashback to another year, another team.
Maybe the Carolina Hurricanes of 2009, the last year they were in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Cole was practicing with the Dallas Stars, who face the Canes on Thursday at PNC Arena and are fighting for playoff position in the NHL’s Western Conference. The 35-year-old forward is recovering from an upper-body injury – the reason he was wearing red rather than Stars green. He said a decision on his playing status would be made Thursday after the morning skate.
For Cole, any game in PNC Arena is special. He was part of the Canes teams responsible for the 2006 Stanley Cup championship banner and 2002 Stanley Cup finals banner in the arena rafters. He was a member of the Canes team that reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, and will always be a part of the organization’s legacy and one of its more popular players.
In an interview Wednesday, Cole touched on a number of subjects.
On the expected retirement of Jim Rutherford as Canes general manager:
“Jim’s got a lot to be proud of. Through the times I was here he always knew when to say something to guys and when not to, and seemed to know where we were at and where we were headed. When I get the chance, I will say thanks for giving me the opportunity and his belief in me when I was back in college, which means a lot. If he stays with the team in some position, the organization will be better off for it.”
On Ron Francis likely succeeding Rutherford as general manager:
“He has worn several different hats in the organization and really got the sense of what each level consists of, top to bottom. He’s been very close to Jim and for him to have that guidance and have him as a mentor and show him that side, that’s definitely a huge plus. But us players always knew that the way Ronnie carried himself, how he was as a teammate and player. You always expected this would one day be a title that would be suitable for him.”
On former Canes teammate Jeff Skinner as a potential 40-goal NHL scorer:
“I think he can be. Obviously health is always the biggest issue with anybody. If you’re going to be a 40-goal guy you can’t really miss too many games. I think Jeff definitely has that ability and has the confidence in himself that he can do that. I think that’s kind of always driven him, his belief in himself maybe when other people weren’t so sure what he was capable of.”
Comparing Stars forward Tyler Seguin to Skinner:
“They’re different personalities but (Seguin) is pretty quiet, really, a lot like Jeff was. Doesn’t say much and you have to poke and prod it out of him. I think (Seguin) has embraced the fact he’s a marquee player and a player we need to be good on a nightly basis. He’s done a good job of handling that role and being ready to play every night.”
On the potential of Stars rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin:
“He’s tremendously talented. He’s got size and skill and speed. For him, it’s more he’s learning how to play over here on the smaller ice against bigger and stronger guys than he’s played against before. He’s going to continue to get better and better. There’s a lot he can achieve. At times he’s shown a little fatigue, being a young guy in a new environment, but he’s a fantastic player.”
On playing with former Canes teammate Ray Whitney in Dallas:
“He’s a guy I’ve looked up to in my career and leaned on for advice in different situations. The years we spent in Carolina were some of the most fun years. Playing with him, just being in the locker room with him, he’s just a fun guy and a real team guy. He knows when to lighten the mood and when something needs to be addressed.”
On what separates playoff teams from the rest:
“It’s a combination of different things. Certainly there are years injuries can get the better of you. And if there are injuries, it’s whether you have the depth of who can come up and contribute right away. It’s really about a group of guys coming together and everyone finding their niche … and going out and everybody commands each other’s best, every night. Guys don’t want to let their teammates down and perform well for the guys next to him. When you have that you find ways to win tough games.”
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