From the coastline of Vancouver Island to the Manitoba capital, Cole Maier makes an impact wherever he goes.
The 25-year-old from Pequannock, New Jersey is gearing up for his second pro season with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
Like most athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned their world upside down whether it comes to training while also abiding by public health orders.
“I think early on it was pretty difficult to get ice with everything closing. Then things opened up a lot more in the summer, which made it easier to get ice, and then we sort of went in the wrong direction during the fall and winter, so it got tricky again.”
“Being able to at least sort of plan how many days a week you were going to train was tough because you are not exactly sure when the season is going to start. So being flexible and making sure that when you are able to get to facilities (you can) because you never know when things are going to be open or when the season is going to start.”
Last season was a rare down year for the minor league affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets as the Moose went 27-33-1-0 in the AHL’s Central Division.
Maier finished his rookie year with seven goals and eight assists in 59 games.
Even though the New Jersey product is used to some colder weather, it doesn’t quite compare to those frigid Winnipeg winters. However, the hockey-mad environment makes it a lot easier.
“Up here it’s cold that’s for sure, but other than that I think it’s nice for us. First of all facility-wise because we get spoiled a bit since we get to share the facilities (with the Jets).”
“Hockey is just so big here compared to the other places in the States that you could be playing, so I think it’s cool to see all the fans and they know what’s going on whereas maybe some other places, the American Hockey League may fly under the radar a little bit.”
Maier admitted with all the uncertainty surrounding how the season will play out, individual goal setting is a tad bit tougher than usual.
“I just want to be able to build off last year. At this point, I am not even sure how many games we are going to play so it’s tough to put numbers out there. Getting to play quite a few games last year to understand what the level is like and how good everyone is certainly made for no nights off.”
Dominating with the Dutchmen
After playing one memorable year with the Nanaimo Clippers during the 2014-15 season, Maier found his way to Union College.
During his freshman year, the Dutchmen struggled on the ice going 6-10-6 and ultimately getting swept 2-0 in a best-of-three series against Cornell.
Maier finished an injury-riddled freshman NCAA season with three goals and one assist in 18 games.
As luck would have it, his and Union’s on-ice fortunes would change for the better the following season. The team went 16-4-2 in the ECAC and swept its quarterfinal series against Princeton 2-0 before falling in the semi-finals to Cornell.
The Dutchmen ended up qualifying for the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament but were ousted in the regional semi-final to Penn State.
“My sophomore year I was fortunate (that) we had a good team that year and got to learn a lot from the older guys who took us a long way. (It was) just learning how to win consistently.”
Maier finished the 2016-17 season with 25 points in 39 games.
In his junior year, Maier captained the Dutchmen to a 16-5-1 record but fell again in the postseason with Princeton exacting their revenge winning the quarterfinal series 2-0.
He finished his collegiate career with nine goals and 23 assists in 32 games before earning a contract with the Moose where he tallied once in three games at the tail end of the 2018-19 season.
Looking back at his NCAA experience, Maier stated the rivalry games against RPI were the most fun.
“They are right down the street from us, it’s about a 20-minute drive. Union has a pretty small rink so whenever (RPI) would come, it would always be standing room only and very loud, which is always fun.”
“RPI had a bigger rink but (it) would also get really loud. Then we would play them in the Mayor’s Cup at the Times Union Center in Albany, so for that game, teams would have buses of students playing for bragging rights. And a trophy was always cool at the end of the year.”
Another memory that comes to mind is how Maier drew into the lineup during his rookie season and got on the scoresheet.
“I remember someone got sick or injured so I ended up getting bumped up in the lineup. I was able to play on a good line so (in) my first game I scored and then a shift or two later I got injured and ended up missing a couple of weeks after that. It was an extreme high followed by a low right after.”
Lighting it up with the Clippers
Maier made the most of his time in a Nanaimo Clippers uniform, notching 54 points in 59 games.
Under the guidance of Head Coach Mike Vandekamp, the Clippers were among the elite teams in the BCHL during the 2014-15 season, going 37-16-0-5 to claim the Island Division title. From there, the Clippers didn’t skip a beat in the postseason but fell just shy of winning the Fred Page Cup.
“I had never been out to British Columbia before I came over for the year. I remember guys were saying it was going to be a good team but I remember the playoff run the most. (We went) to game seven in the second round (against Powell River) and we had that round-robin with the other divisions and ended up losing in the finals in six games to Penticton.”
“Four of those games went to overtime so I just remember how tough and fun all of those playoff games were during our run there.”
However, an odd moment during the Clippers first-round matchup against Alberni Valley sticks with Maier to this day.
“We were actually up 3-0 in the series and I think we had a lead in the third period of game four and someone threw a broom on the ice before the game was over. Then they came back and tied it and beat us in overtime.”
“(The Bulldogs) brought it all the way back to game seven and we ended up winning that game with ten minutes left in the third period. (But) I will always remember when the broom got thrown onto the ice.”
Brush with greatness
Maier grew up a huge New Jersey Devils fan relishing every chance they got to beat their cross-town rivals the New York Rangers. As a youngster, the now 25-year-old had the luxury of attending many games at the old Continental Airlines Arena as well as the state-of-the art Prudential Centre.
“I remember watching Scott Niedermeyer play and Martin Brodeur’s kids (Anthony and Jeremy) were (close to) my age. I actually grew up playing on a team with Anthony and I still skate with Jeremy here and there but I loved watching the Scott Stevens-era of the Devils along with Ken Daneyko.”
“It was a fun time to be a Devils fan and now their new facility is beautiful as well so (there are) no complaints about the new rink.”
As for his owner career, Maier and the Moose are set to begin their AHL season on Feb. 5 featuring an all-Canadian Division including Manitoba along with the Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies, and Laval Rocket.