DANTON COLE WAS on his way to a game in Las Vegas last Friday, boarding pass in hand, when he got news that the Chicago Blackhawks were on the line. Which, if you're playing for the farm team of the New York Islanders, is news indeed.
Sure enough, Cole was being traded to the Blackhawks, and would be assigned to the Indianapolis Ice of the International Hockey League. In the time it took the attendant to call out, "Delta Flight 1934, with service to Las Vegas, is now boarding all rows," he was history. "Indiana Wants Me" was ringing in his ears. His Weekend in Vegas was over before it began."I'm thinking . . . I can't believe this happened. I had my boarding pass and everything," said Cole.
This isn't a guy without credentials. Cole left the Utah Grizzlies last week as the team's leading scorer with 43 points and was fourth in the IHL in game-winning goals and third in shooting percentage. He's played in 316 games in the NHL and has a Stanley Cup championship ring. He's no rookie - and he's got a missing incisor to prove it.
Cole was happy and healthy and, like everyone in the IHL, looking forward to spending more time in the NHL. But if that didn't happen, he was glad to be playing in Salt Lake, a city with a reputation of treating hockey players well.
"Playing in Salt Lake was the most fun I've had in seven years of (pro) hockey," he said. "The best moment was winning the Stanley Cup, but the best season, the most enjoyable, was here."
However unexpected, the move wasn't a new experience for Cole. He's knows the fine print in the Ryder rental agreement by heart. He knows how much it costs for anextra hand truck and how to shut
the latch on the back gate. He
could rent a moving truck in his sleep.
After four years at Michigan State, where he was part of an NCAA championship team in 1986, he played 80 games for Moncton of the American Hockey League and made it to the NHL's Winnipeg Jets for two games.
The following year he spent 66 games in Winnipeg, scoring 24
In 1991-92 he appeared in 52 Winnipeg games, totaling 12 points. But his first serious move came the next summer when he was traded to Tampa Bay for future considerations. His wife was nine months pregnant at the time, but the NHL doesn't let things like pregnancies get in the way of player moves, so she had the baby the next day while Cole was forced to split his attention between getting a baby delivered in Winnipeg and their furniture delivered in Florida.
"Until then," said Cole, "the reality of moving never really hit me."
But the move didn't keep him from playing hockey. Not by a long shot. The next two seasons he appeared in 148 NHL games with the Lightning. His resume was growing by the day. Last year he added another 26 games in Tampa before being traded to New Jersey on March 14, 1995. He finished last season playing 12 games in the NHL and appeared in one playoff game for the Stanley Cup champion Devils.
After being signed as a free agent by the Islanders last September, he began this year with the Grizzlies, then was called up by New York. He played in another 10 NHL games, notching one goal.
He was back in Salt Lake, enjoying the winter, when the next call came, at the D Concourse of the B Terminal at Salt Lake International. He was moving again. "We're a lot like prostitutes, except we've gotta report our income," said Cole.
Cole was back on the Delta Center ice Monday night, only this time with the Indianapolis Ice, who beat the Grizzlies, 6-3. He had stayed in town over the weekend, then Monday morning gone to the Grizzlies' locker room and picked up his equipment and carried it over to the visitors' locker room. He rode to the game with former teammate Barry Nieckar.
It was familiar, yet weird. In less than a week he played on the same rink, with two different teams. He got into the boxscore, only on the other side of the scoresheet, registering an assist on the game's first goal, a shot by Dan Gauthier 1:09 into the game.
"They'll (the Grizzlies) probably be calling for the puck," he laughed before the game.
But soon Monday's game was over and it was time to move on. This time he'd be catching a plane to Phoenix with the Ice, then on to Las Vegas. He'd be going there after all. Which is really no big surprise. If he's learned anything in his career, it's that there's a lot of travel involved, and you're going to hit all the towns, one way or another. Either as a visitor or a resident.