Former Raider Fonstad finding life to his liking in Cleveland

Cole Fonstad and Marc Habscheid share a moment on the ice together after the Raiders captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions in 2019. --Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald

If the question was asked about what your favourite moment was from the 2018-19 season of the Raiders, the majority of answers would most likely be Dante Hannoun’s game seven overtime winning goal against the Vancouver Giants.

Perhaps one of the most important moments from that season didn’t happen during that season at all. It might have began in the 2014 and 2015 WHL Bantam Drafts, arguably the beginning of the formation of one of the most dangerous WHL teams in league history.

With the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Prince Albert Raiders selected forward Cole Fonstad from small town Estevan, SK, which began the trek towards glory. Selected in the same draft as Justin Nachbaur and Spencer Moe, Fonstad became one of the more crucial players in the 2018-19 season.

Joining Ian Scott, Parker Kelly, and Zack Hayes, who were all picked in the 2014 draft, Fonstad solidified himself as a top line centre for the Raiders.

But where is number 24 now? Look to the east side of the United States to the state of Ohio—Cleveland, to be exact—where Fonstad signed an AHL contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate team, the Cleveland Monsters.

Fonstad took some time to chat and look back at winning the WHL championship.

“To be on a team that good, you need good players, but you also need good guys,” Fonstad said. “Everyone on that team will tell you the same thing. I think the biggest thing was the culture we built there. The guys who started at the beginning, and the guys we brought in just fit right in. It was a super special group, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

The saying ‘all good things must come to and end’ came to fruition when Fonstad was traded to the Everett Silvertips next season to the Everett Silvertips. After registering nine points in nine games to begin the season with Prince Albert, it looked like Fonstad was primed once again to be a prolific scorer in the 2019-20 season. Fonstad cleared up the question marks around the trade, saying he needed a fresh start.

“At the time I was in a little bit of a rut on the ice and mentally,” he said. “I think it was good for me to get a fresh start out west. Obviously it sucked to leave all my teammates. The whole organization was amazing, but I think getting that fresh start allowed me to take my game to the next level.

“I enjoyed my time in Everett, and learned a lot as well. I added a lot of different things to my game that I didn’t know I had in me, and it all worked out. Right from the time I got to Everett, I felt the confidence from the coaching staff. They put me in situations that I’ve never really been in before, whether it was penalty killing or late game situations. A lot of people didn’t think I had those things in me, but I knew I did, and I got the chance to prove myself.”

Fonstad said he thinks his time with the Silvertips really showed that he can play at a pro level, and that he can adapt and play in any situation thrown his way.

“I think that really showed people and pro teams that I wasn’t just the player I was before. I could do other things to, and my coaches were there to help add a lot of little things to my game that have gotten me to where I am today.”

Fonstad was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL draft by the Montreal Canadians, but wasn’t offered a contract by the club. Fonstad said he had an expectation to get some AHL offers after his overage season in Everett. Multiple teams were in contract talks with him, but it was an easy choice to sign with the Monsters.

“There were a handful of deals on the table, but I felt like Cleveland was the best opportunity for me to prove myself,” he explained. “It’s been great so far. My focus right now is to do my job, and everything else will take care of itself.”

In 17 games with the Monsters this season, Fonstad has put up a respectable four goals and three assists. He said it’s been a learning experience over the past few months.

“At the start of the year, you’re starting from the bottom again, similar to where I was as a 16 year old in the WHL,” he explained. “I’ve been through it before, and it’s frustrating at times, but you’ve just got to control what you can. I thought I did that pretty well, and things are starting to look up. I’ve been playing pretty well as of late, and that’s been good.”

Moving from Estevan, SK, with a population of around 14,000 people, to a city like Cleveland, with a population of close to 400,000, was a big change for a small town guy, but one he’s welcomed.

“Living on my own for the first time, I had to find an apartment and all that stuff,” Fonstad laughed. “But it’s a cool city to live in, they have the Cavaliers and the Browns and all that. It’s a lot of fun to be here, and I’m enjoying it.”