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PHILADELPHIA – One look at either Ian Cole and Matt Calvert, and it’s clear their bodies are well developed. Cole has muscles on top of his muscles, while Calvert has that no-fat, diamond-chiseled physique that every NHL players strives to have now. After talking to either of them for any period of time, another thing is clear too:
Their brains are well developed.
Both Cole and Calvert, imported this summer from the Columbus Blue Jackets, speak in complete sentences. Put a pair of old-school wire-rimmed spectacles on his face and maybe a corn-cob pipe in his mouth, and Cole might be able to pass for a college professor at some fussy Eastern school. Calvert has that down-home earnestness that is the hallmark of so many Canadian farm boys who make it to the NHL, but you can tell he’s probably cracked a book or two and not just the NHL Guide and Record Book.
Both players brought brute strength to the table in the Avalanche’s 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, with Cole playing nearly 20 minutes of strong, stay-at-home hockey, including three blocked shots. Calvert played just under 15 minutes, and made one of the bigger plays of the win, a steal in the offensive zone and, after some stick-handling around the net, a feed of Matt Nieto that resulted in the game-winning goal.
I didn’t talk what’s on their reading tables right now with either of them, just lots of hockey. Before the game, Calvert talked about the need to do some of the things better – personally and as a team – with the puck, then went out and did it. He had three shots on net and was part of a penalty-killing unit that held the Flyers to 0-for-3.
Here’s some of what he said: “I thought there would be more of an adjustment period here, playing with some of these guys, but you do your route, you do your system and you’re going to do well here. Some of the guys I’ve played with, on the lines and especially on the PK, they know their jobs and work hard at them and so it’s easy for a guy like me to fit in.”
Calvert said his two role models growing up were Jordin Tootoo, who just retired, and Martin St. Louis – “two small guys who made it,” he said.
Over at Cole’s locker, it’s easy to get engaged in a conversation about a lot of things, but he was expansive on why he thinks the Avalanche’s defense will keep getting better. Although the Flyers did put 38 shots on Semyon Varlamov in this one – too many, for anyone’s taste – the defense did a pretty good job of limiting the Flyers to one-and-done attempts and keeping most of their shots to the outside.
What makes a defense that’s really clicking, Cole was asked?
“It’s guys with short gaps, where everyone is reading not only where the puck is, but where it might go next,” Cole said. “I thought we had more of that tonight. I still think we can be better in the third period with a lead. I think we can play a little more confidently. But it’s a great sign that we can battle through it and still win and learn at the same time. That (Flyers) team, they kind of play a different style. They kind of like to bring it back and go rink-wide and slowing everything down, and they’re really good at finding those late guys coming into the rush. It’s really tough to cover, because everyone is trying to get back.”
Asked how he would describe how the Avs try to play – without giving away their system – Cole said this:
“I think we want to play quick defensively,” Cole said. “What I mean by that is, we want to close down plays as quick as possible. If we can close them down in the neutral zone, even better. If they do gain the zone, if we can close the play, end the cycle as quick as we can, we can transition and get it to our skilled forwards. Some teams just count shots and go by that, but you really want to cut down on scoring chances more than anything.”
Cole and Calvert are still new, and still learning the Avs way. But it’s safe to say they’ll be quick students, if they aren’t already.