C.R. RoughRiders lose forward Justin Cole, and it's a great thing

2nd-year player gets late opportunity to join good University of Denver program

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CEDAR RAPIDS — If Trevor Moore goes on to have an unbelievable National Hockey League career, his biggest fan will be Justin Cole. Even if doesn’t have much of a career, Justin Cole will be his biggest fan.

Moore decided last week to forego his final season of eligibility at the University of Denver and sign a contract with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. That opened up a scholarship, or at least part of one, that Denver filled with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward.

Guys leaving their junior team at the last second to go to college happens sometimes. Players commit to schools very early anymore.

But a guy who hadn’t committed to leave this late and go to college is virtually unheard of in the United States Hockey League. Cole was preparing for the Riders’ 2016-17 season.

“(Moore leaving) gave me the opportunity to fill a slot,” Cole said. “It was a pretty quick process ... I visited there Monday. I feel blessed. Denver is a great school, it’s a great hockey school. It’s every kid’s dream to play college hockey. I’m definitely really excited.”

Cole, 20, is a late bloomer who made the RoughRiders roster last season as an undrafted free agent. He’d been playing prep school hockey.

The Bryn Athyn, Pa., resident scored 12 goals and added 13 assists in 59 regular-season games for C.R.

“I developed a little later than most guys,” Cole said. “I stayed patient, worked hard at my game, and now I’ve got an opportunity. It’s definitely tough to leave the team. I loved it in Cedar Rapids.”

RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson generally isn’t enamored of guys who leave earlier for college than he thinks they should. In this case, he’s losing a guy who surely would have been a prominent player for him.

But there was no way he could begrudge Cole’s decision in this case. He was elated about it.

“It’s a great story because this is what the United States Hockey League is all about,” Carlson said. “If you want to develop as a hockey player and a person, this is the league to play in. Justin worked very hard since becoming a Roughrider 14 months ago. He has lived away from home, he has practiced and played against players in one of the top developmental junior leagues in the world on a daily basis. That is why he has developed ... We are so proud of him and wish him all the best at the University of Denver.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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