By Evan Wechman
There is a little-known secret in the small town of Pequannock that only hard-core hockey fans probably know about. That secret is becoming harder to keep as Pequannock native Cole Maier is getting closer to his dream of becoming a hockey player in the National Hockey League (NHL), the premier professional organization for the sport.
Right now, Maier who is 27 years old plays hockey professionally for the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg. He is paid a good salary, but nowhere near what the players make in the NHL. Maier, who grew up rooting for the New Jersey Devils, explained how the Manitoba team is part of the American Hockey League (AHL), just a step below the NHL.
Though he remembers going to Devils games, his goal is to play in the NHL and his best shot of doing that is through the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets who are affiliated with the Manitoba Moose. Many former players on his team have been called up to play with the Winnipeg Jets, and Maier has not given up on his dream. However, he knows it takes constant work and preparation.
Maier was a high school hockey star growing up in Pequannock and caught Manitoba’s attention while playing at Union College. Maier said he was concerned as a college player due to his slight build but spent lots of hours in the weight room to build more muscle.
Now, as a professional player, he is still dedicated to preparation. Besides working one-on one with a professional skating coach in the United States during the off-season, he is still committed to bulking up in the gym.
According to Maier, “similar to every summer since I was in high school, it’s just about getting stronger and then obviously a step faster where you can as well so I’m in the gym four days a week.”
Maier’s passion towards his craft has paid off as he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player this past season. He wasn’t expecting the award but said “it (the award) was a really good feeling. It made me think back to when I was trying to get to the AHL in the first place. And you see how big and fast people are and you wonder if you’re going to be able to make the adjustment, so the next step was just being a regular in the lineup. And then, after becoming more comfortable, you want to have more of an impact on the games. So, I think to be able to make that next step was huge for me, and I was definitely surprised but super honored to win that award.”
Maier is entering the second year of a two-year contract when the season begins again this fall. Despite his commitment to Manitoba, he does come back to Pequannock in the summers to see family and friends, when he is not practicing. “Northeast summers are beautiful so I’m always going to come home.”
Though Maier admits he still loves New Jersey, he knows he must keep up the intensity in Manitoba to fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL. He is thankful for the top-notch treatment he has received in Canada. His team plays in the same major facility as their NHL affiliate, the Winnipeg Jets and he has no complaints.
He realizes there will be significantly more money and fame if he reaches the NHL but stated that he is doing everything because he loves the sport. He will not let himself get sidetracked by pursuing the sport for the wrong reasons.
At 27, Maier is aware he is at a crossroads. He has a short window to reach his goal, or it may pass him by. However, he remains humble and focused solely on the next step, never looking too far ahead.
When speaking about his hockey future, he said “I think a lot of it depends on how this upcoming year goes. It depends on what future contracts may have in store. I think one of the things about pro hockey is that it’s really tough to plan too far ahead, because you never know exactly what’s going to happen in the upcoming season.”
Maier does have a terrific college education to fall back on, but with his work ethic, the NHL may not be far off. According to him, “the NHL is definitely still a goal of mine.”