BRANDON — Ian Cole knows he talks a lot. It’s a trait that has followed the defenseman through his 12-year NHL career — 670 regular-season games, 110 playoff appearances and two Stanley Cup championships — and recently surfaced with his newest team.
During the Lightning’s training camp, Cole shouted plays from the bench. He directed traffic in scrimmages. While on the ice, the 33-year-old communicated with his partners to sync reads and triggers. All the talking might seem annoying, Cole said, but there’s a reason for it.
He wants to help Tampa Bay’s defensemen — especially the younger ones — read plays the same way.
“Talk is important,” Cole said. “But if you don’t read the same play the same way, at least on a foundational level, communication isn’t going to change someone’s mind.”
Head coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning’s young defensemen in training camp “have to take something” from Cole and the other veteran blueliners. Cole became the team’s oldest defenseman after signing a one-year, $3 million deal in the offseason. Like the majority of their roster, he has reached the sport’s pinnacle twice, too.
At this stage of his career, Cole understands his role, and it’s not trying to unseat skilled defensemen.
“I’m not gonna try to run the first power play,” he said. “I’m not gonna try to put up 50 points. That’s not what I do. Certainly help out offensively, certainly join in the play when the opportunity arises, but I’m not gonna be the guy that’s gonna force that and try to make that happen.”
Cole was drafted by the Blues in the first round in 2007 and made his professional debut three years later. In 2015, though, a series of trades began. He went from the Blues to the Penguins, then shuffled to the Blue Jackets and Senators — he only spent a few days in Ottawa and never played in a game — before signing with the Avalanche ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Cole won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and ‘17. Watching the Lightning make their own finals runs the last three seasons, he noticed a similar confidence from players in the team’s system and lack of deviation from their game plan.
“He’s played on winning teams, he’s played for really successful organizations, he has played in the playoffs,” Cooper said. “He’s done all these things that the (Victor) Hedmans have done, and so to add another guy — especially with the departure of (Ryan) McDonagh — he kinda fits a lot of those same characteristics.”
Cole, who paired primarily with fellow newcomer Philippe Myers in training camp, will rely on his experience to earn playing time within a defensive unit tasked with filling McDonagh’s 22:27 of ice time. He can sit back and play defense, disrupting odd-man rushes and blocking shots. He also can skate with the penalty-kill lines, where he played nearly 26% of the Hurricanes’ shorthanded minutes last season as they compiled the NHL’s top regular-season penalty kill percentage (88%).
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Contributions like those created a “nice bit of a niche for myself,” Cole said.
“He’s got a track record of what he’s done and kinda his body of work and where he’s been at his best …” Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern said. “He’ll carve out what he’s kinda demanding as a player in that role. It’ll be part of the 60 minutes that you’re trying to take up with the (defense), and it’ll play a big part of it.”
Cole understands the importance of staying flexible. With the Hurricanes last year, he went from playing with “whoever” to slotting with Jaccob Slavin, another left-handed defenseman, to close games.
Cole’s recent free-agent stops have turned into quests to win a third Stanley Cup. Last year, that meant signing with the Hurricanes, where he played in 75 games and averaged 17:09 en route to the second round of the playoffs. The opportunity to join the Lightning was something he said he “wanted to jump on,” too.
Money and contract terms play a role, Cole said, but he mostly wanted to find a place where he can compete at the highest level.
“I think once you get a taste of that winning,” he said, “that’s all you want to do.”
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