Comets Tales: Cassels Path to Utica Started with the Whalers
by Don LaibleMar 15, 2016
To understand Cole Cassels' welcome to the Utica Comets, you have to take a look at where he's been.
Six months in as a pro and Cassels gets it. “It” being why hockey fans in the Mohawk Valley are so passionate about hockey.
"Before I arrived I had heard this was a crazy hockey town,” said Cassels. “But on opening night, the crowd blew me off of my feet.”
Quite a compliment from the 20-year-old center who is fresh out of four seasons of juniors with the Oshawa Generals. By all predictions, Cassels has settled in comfortably at The AUD.
He compares Utica and Oshawa (Ontario) as both being blue-collar towns where hockey is the center of most conversations.
While Cassels professional playing future began in Utica, his hockey future began with the Hartford Whalers while living in Hartford, CT. Andrew Cassels, Cole's dad, skated with six teams over 16 seasons in the National Hockey League. Cole was born during the 1994-95 hockey season while his father was playing in his fourth season as a Whaler. The next two seasons remain among the most important by Cole, to this day.
"My heart is in Hartford," Cassels said after a morning practice in The AUD. "The team (Whalers) was close, from what I am told. We had some fun times there. That's where my dad's best years were. The CVS Line (Cassels, Pat Verbeek, and Geoff Sanderson) was great."
It's a given that the road to the NHL requires relocating often. For Cole Cassels, there have been many places he has called home since being born in Connecticut's capital.
Although Bramalea, Ontario is the official listing of Andrew's hometown, Cole lists Hartford. When the Comets were playing the Hartford Wolf Pack in the second game of this season, Cassels took full advantage of some downtime on October 17 to revisit his family roots.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon, Cassels took in the city. There was the XL Center where he would be playing for the Comets later in the day to experience. Surrounding streets - Trumbell, Asylum, Main, and Market were there to walk. The museum of art, convention center, and state capitol, all in walking distance to where the Whalers once ruled. Walking the streets of Hartford, even for a short time, was a much anticipated, and appreciated homecoming for Cassels.
With all the moving around required by his dad's career, Hartford seems to matter most. Given that he was a very young child, this speaks volumes of the stories told to him of the comradery experienced between Whalers players and their fans.
By age two, already walking and no doubt skating (or attempting to do so), Cole was about to experience his first of many change of addresses. A member of the final Whalers team in 1996-97, Andrew Cassels didn't relocate with the organization to Carolina. Instead, a two-year deal was struck with the Calgary Flames.
Having clear, and no doubt up close views of Jerome Iginla and Theo Fleury doing their prime in Calgary, had to have an impression on the then three and four year old future player. Following his dad’s time in Western Canada, the Cassels packed up and moved further to the Pacific Coast - Vancouver.
For the following three seasons Cole was surrounded by Vancouver Canucks. From ages 5-7, Cole watched some of the best Canucks of all-time be at work. Names that include Mark Messier, Markus Naslund, and Ed Jovanovski slide easily out of Cassels brain as he recalls players he enjoyed watching.
From ages 8 and 9, the Cassels loaded up their belongings and made yet another move, this time going back east, to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In Ohio, Cole was able to watch an 18-year-old Rick Nash start what has become an all-star career, with the Blue Jackets. Andrew Cassels was reunited with his former Whalers teammate Kevin Dineen in Columbus.
As a 10-year-old, after they settled in Columbus, Cole's dad was set to play his final NHL campaign as a Washington Capital. The 2005-06 season meant, for Cole, to see Alex Ovechkin play his first 81 games with the Caps.
Once dad hung up his skates, it was Cole's turn to start playing the game that he was born into. By his 16th birthday Cole was in the midst of his first of four seasons as an Oshawa General - which lead him to this season in Utica. Starting the 2011-12 season in the 20-team Ontario Hockey League, while Cole was getting started in juniors, Andrew Cassels gave coaching a try, as an assistant with the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones.
The improvement in Cole's game, during his four years as a General, were both obvious and staggering. Going from collecting 11 points in season one, to 81 points last season, are contributors as to why the Canucks have high hopes for a second Cassels in the organization.
Cole Cassels' hockey foot print, from Utica to the NHL, took its first step way back when in Hartford - with a pride that continues today.