Ian Cole has a system for packing.
He takes three or four hockey bags, fills them with clothes and then loads the bags into his car that'll be shipped to his next destination.
"The car shows up all packed to the gills," he said.
And when it's time to meet his new teammates, the veteran NHL defenseman also knows what to do.
"Hey," he says. "I'm Ian."
A two-time Stanley Cup champion with almost 600 games of experience, Cole was traded for the fourth time in his career when the Wild acquired him from Colorado earlier this season. He ended up being the final addition to the 2021 roster, with the team letting last week's trade deadline pass without making any changes.
But despite being the last to arrive, Cole is no longer an outsider. He has fused to the Wild with his enthusiasm and rugged style of play.
"I love the team, love the area," Cole said. "The people here have been fantastic. Everyone's treated me like family from Day 1. It's been a really great experience."
When Cole woke up from a pregame nap on Jan. 19, he noticed Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic had called him.
"Anytime a GM's calling you twice and a text, you're like, 'Oh no,' " Cole said.
Sakic had asked Wild GM Bill Guerin if he was interested in picking up Cole, and Guerin was a fan. The two won a pair of Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and '17 when Guerin was in management, and he liked Cole's confidence. The Wild sent Colorado fellow defenseman Greg Pateryn.
Not only was the timing of the trade unique — just three games into the season — but so was the setting. Cole was in Los Angeles with the Avalanche, and the Wild was in nearby Anaheim.
To stay in the NHL's COVID protocols and avoid a quarantine, a car service transported Cole across Southern California and he met the team at dinner that night at the hotel.
"You walk into a whole room of 40 people that you don't know," Cole said. "I guess I'm your new teammate. Hi."
Foe to friend
Nick Bonino was a familiar face; he and Cole were on those Penguins teams that won back-to-back Cups.
But Cole didn't know anyone else.
"I went to Carl Hagelin's wedding with [Mats Zuccarello] about four years ago," Cole said. "But I don't know if I talked to him at the wedding."
Carson Soucy barely recognized Cole despite having played against him.
"To see him without the beard was a little bit different," Soucy said.
Captain Jared Spurgeon had already reached out, texting and calling Cole after the trade.
"Spurgy comes right up and introduces himself," Cole said. "He's so welcoming and such a genuinely great person."
Marcus Johansson also approached Cole.
"I remember when I was in Washington and you hit me behind the net and broke my finger," Johansson told Cole. "I'm still mad about it."
This wasn't the first time Cole had to address a clash from his past with an opponent-turned-teammate.
After joining Columbus, then-Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert reminded Cole he had punched Calvert in the face a few years ago. Now, they are good friends.
"Just get it out of the way right away, talk about it, laugh about it and move on," Cole said.
So Cole apologized, and Johansson said he didn't care now. "As soon as you get on the team with that person," Cole said, "it's all kind of water under the bridge at that point."
Eating and talking and smiling
Dining out on the road is usually how teammates get to know each other; Sidney Crosby took Cole to dinner right after Cole was traded from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.
But with COVID restrictions in place this season, Cole didn't have that same opportunity with the Wild. Instead, he and the team bonded at the hotel, hanging out in a designated lounge space and having food and drinks after a game.
"It's just a great group of guys and a great culture here," Cole said. "Very down to earth and very accepting, which makes the whole thing much easier."
Cole also has settled in on the ice.
A shutdown defenseman with a willingness to block shots, Cole plays a gritty brand of hockey that's endearing and likable.
"He plays hard for us, and that part of it helps you fit in quicker," Guerin said. "When you're all in, you're one of the guys."
Assigned to the third pairing next to Soucy, the two have become one of the NHL's cleanest duos, giving up among the fewest shots, scoring chances and goals for defensemen who have played on the same unit for at least as long as they have.
Together, they are plus-40 — only Vegas and Colorado have two defensemen with a better combined clip — and what makes them click is communication.
"Chemistry is really just seeing something and coming to the same conclusion," Cole said. "It's being able to try to think the same, be on the same page. I think the best way to do that is just talk."
But Cole's performance isn't the only reason why this merger with the Wild has been smooth.
His demeanor also helped the process. The excitement he feels for the team and other players' accomplishments is authentic.
"We have guys like Colesy out there with no teeth smiling all the time," Spurgeon said. "It's pretty hard to not get a smile on your face."
A successful match
Cole has enjoyed the season so much his agent and Guerin already have discussed Cole potentially re-signing with the Wild; the 32-year-old is in the last season of a three-year, $12.75 million contract.
"You want to be in the best situation on the best team as you can be, and this team is really good," said Cole, who has a goal and five assists. "They're young, and they're certainly on the upswing. It's something that I'd love to be a part of."
He is part of it right now, syncing up with a team that is barreling toward the playoffs as one of the NHL's surprising upstarts.
And that sense of belonging is important, too.
"People are always looking for people they can lean on, people they can rely on, feel a part of a community, that they contribute to that community," Cole said. "That's what some teams are so good at as far as this onboarding goes. A guy like Spurge who's the captain comes right out or Sid earlier in my career comes right out and takes you and shows, 'Hey, this is how it's going to be. We're happy you're here. We want you to be here, and we're thrilled about it.'
"I've been very fortunate."