By James Tubb on November 25, 2021.
Cole Sillinger is living his dream.
The former Medicine Hat Tiger has played 17 games in the National Hockey League and appears to be sticking around. He said in an interview with the News last Friday, it’s been pretty special.
“Obviously growing up as a kid this has been a dream of mine, it’s a dream of every young hockey player, so to be living my dream is really just something special being here and I never, ever take it for granted,” Sillinger said. “It may have come quicker to me that I am in the NHL than I expected but everything (here) is how I kind of expected it, and all the guys on the team are great in including me and supporting me.”
Sillinger found out he would pass the 10-game mark on Nov. 6 from Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larson. The 10-game threshold burns the first year of his three-year entry-level contract, which has meant in the past that once a player plays their 10th game, it’s unlikely they return to their junior teams.
Sillinger says he hasn’t forgot the Hat but is doing everything he can to achieve his dream and stick in the bigs.
“Well obviously Medicine Hat has played a big part in my success but with that being said, the goal when you are in Medicine Hat is to play professional hockey and to make the NHL,” Sillinger said. “So now I have the opportunity to do whatever I can to try to stay here and make the most of my opportunity. But for sure not going to forget the connections and the development Medicine Hat has put me in.”
Besides having four goals and eight points in 17 games, Sillinger has also played a physical game, including registering his first fight last Thursday against Ryan Dzingel of the Arizona Coyotes. Sillinger said it wasn’t something he plans to do a lot of but he isn’t afraid to either.
“It was an in-the-moment thing, hit a guy and just a little scrum and gloves came off,” Sillinger said. “Just kind of in the moment, right, don’t really think about it and obviously a lot of adrenaline. I’m not a fighter, not looking to be a fighter but certainly not afraid to step up when challenged.”
Sticking in the NHL hasn’t changed his living arrangement though, as Sillinger is still living with the same family friends he stayed with during training camp. He said he could get his own place but likes the feeling of home he has while staying with them.
“I feel like I am mature enough that if I wanted to get an apartment living on my own, I think I would have no issues doing that,” Sillinger said. “That being said, the couple I live with are super amazing, super nice, very friendly. So more that home feeling of going home after practice and you have someone to talk to, someone to help cook and help make it feel more like I am living with my own family.”
Sillinger says they do the cooking, as they make “some pretty good five-star dinners,” and he says he never goes hungry with the amount of food available at home and at the rink. One thing that hasn’t changed for Sillinger is his pre-game meal of grilled chicken parm and caesar salad — a tradition pre-dating his time in the Gas City.
The only difference now for the Columbus product is his pre-game meals are now catered in cities like Las Vegas and New York. The Blue Jackets were in Vegas last weekend but because he is still only 18, Sillinger obviously couldn’t partake in any gambling, but says he still enjoyed walking around and getting dinner in Sin City.
Now that he is sticking in the NHL, when asked if he’s thought ahead about playing certain stars, Sillinger named a few matchups he is looking forward to.
“I thought (Alexander) Ovechkin was pretty cool to play against, and obviously what he’s done in the league and the number of goals he’s scored, I thought that was a very cool player to play against,” Sillinger said. “It will be cool playing (Sidney) Crosby, (Connor) McDavid, the (Drew) Doughtys; it’ll be cool because I grew up watching those guys and now hopefully have a chance to play them.”
He said so far a lot of former WHL players have tapped his shin pads and offered congratulations for making the NHL. Even NHLers like Zdeno Chara and Matt Martin, who played against his dad, have wished him congrats so far. Sillinger says his welcome-to-the-NHL moment came with his first goal on Oct. 21.
“My welcome moment was scoring my first goal, you kind of just black out as the puck goes in the back of the net and start cheering,” Sillinger said. “I was lucky to score it at home so I had the fans behind our back. The puck goes in, you black out, you do your celebration and then go through the line, fist bump the boys and the announcer saying, ‘goal scored by.’ It’s a pretty surreal moment and everyone that scores their first NHL goal, that’s the one they remember, so it’ll stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Sillinger and the Blue Jackets will be in Alberta on Dec. 16-18 with games against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He says he’s reached out to former Tiger teammates to see if they would like to come watch and says he is looking forward to seeing a lot of friends along the Western Canadian road trip.
As for Medicine Hat, Sillinger says he will be back soon and will miss the long bus rides with his Tiger teammates.
“Right from my billets, the coaching staff, the relationships I created — I will be in touch with everyone that I met there for a long time and I will be back in Medicine Hat in the summers whenever I can, so it’s not like I will never be there again,” Sillinger said. “To me, (the bus rides) were one of the best parts. You’re so close with your team, you’re with the guys 24/7 on the road and just have the ability to create relationships and get close to one another, that’s what hockey is all about.”