Positive attitude and strong support helps coach in cancer battle

by Bryan Zollman, Let’s Play Hockey

Cole Bassett’s spirits were high as he spent the early part of this week in an unfamiliar place facing unfamiliar circumstances.

The 41-year-old was in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic where he underwent an array of tests to determine the significance of a word that has become all to new to him: cancer.

Bassett was in the emergency room in early February at Woodwinds in Woodbury where he was undergoing tests to determine why his hemoglobin was dangerously low. A CT Scan had determined he had blood clots in his chest, lymph nodes and around his heart. The doctor immediately ordered a PET Scan, which revealed even more troubling news.

“The emergency room doctor came into the room and she was the first one to use the word cancer,” said Bassett.

Bassett was shocked. He hadn’t been feeling well for some time, but shrugged it off to turning 40. Fatigue, weakness, dizziness…he just figured he was getting older.

“The last couple years it’s been a gradual decline that became so slow it just became normal,” he said. “It was so slow and gradual I figured I was just slowing down with age.”

Bassett caught a bad cold in early February and saw his personal doctor who prescribed him antibiotics. It cleared up the congestion, but the weakness and fatigue got worse, prompting him to make another appointment. A blood draw revealed a dangerously low hemoglobin level. Normal levels for an adult his age is between 14 to 18. His was 6.8.

“It got serious pretty quickly,” noted Bassett.

His doctor ordered him to visit the emergency room and get a blood transfusion. But there was one problem. The Park of Cottage Grove High School hockey team he helped coach had a game that night.

“We had a game against Cretin and of course I wasn’t going to miss that,” he said. ” She made me promise I would go to the ER after the game, and I did.”

Hockey has been a huge part of Bassett’s life since he was a little kid playing mites in the Burnsville youth program. He played in Burnsville through peewees and then played a year of bantams with White Bear Lake before joining Hill-Murray’s high school ranks. He played two years at Hill-Murray before joining the USA National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. where he played his remaining two years of high school. His skills would eventually land him in Mankato where he played four years for Minnesota State in their early years of Division I hockey in the now defunct WCHA.

Bassett played two years in the Hill-Murray High School program before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich. where he played in Team USA’s NTDP. PHOTO SUBMITTED.

He played a couple professional seasons in the United Hockey League before retiring as a player and moving into other hockey-related roles that included scouting and coaching.

“Hockey shaped my life,” he said. “Everything I am and everything I do, the circle of friends I have and all the people around me is all because of hockey.”

After his playing days were over in 2005, he re-enrolled at Minnesota State-Mankato and earned his degree in Sports Administration. In 2007-08 he served as an assistant coach at Hill-Murray, helping lead them to a state championship in 2008. From 2008 to 2010 he was back in Ann Arbor working with 1992 birth year players in the NTDP, coaching under current Wild bench boss John Hynes. After his stint in Ann Arbor he returned to Minnesota and worked with the Lakeville program before scouting for the U.S. Development Team  as the Minnesota Regional Manager. In 2018-19 he worked with the Gentry Academy program. He also helped a friend coach a Woodbury Peewee B1 team in 2022-23 and they won a state championship.

Bassett (far left) helped coach the Peewee B1 Woodbury squad to a state championship in Warroad.

“That was pretty cool,” he said.

Jeremy Bell was the one who recruited Bassett to help him coach the Peewee B1 team.

“We had Cole Bassett and Leon Hayward (University of St. Thomas assistant) on our staff,” said Bell. “I had the best coaching staff in the entire state. Our kids learned so much from those guys.”

Cole Bassett (middle) helped lead the Peewee B1 Woodbury team to a state title along with fellow coaches Jeremy Bell (left) and Leon Hayward (right). PHOTO SUBMITTED

In 2019 he ventured out on his own and developed HIT Hockey, which involves small group and individual skill training.

While training players in Cottage Grove he received a call from Jeff Corkish, the newly hired head coach at Park of Cottage Grove High School. Corkish wanted Bassett to join his staff.

“I’ve always wanted to get back into coaching and am thankful for that opportunity,” Bassett said.

He and Corkish have formed a strong bond.

“We talk every day,” he said. “He’s provided awesome support.”

Corkish first met Bassett when Bassett was providing small group skill instruction in Cottage Grove. He watched him from afar and appreciated his commitment to the players. He knew it was a passion project for Bassett and not just a money-making venture.

“”I liked what he did,” said Corkish, who will enter his second season next winter as the head coach at Park-Cottage Grove. “He held kids accountable. A lot of coaches will tell kids what they want to hear. He wanted to make sure he was coaching them well. He made sure they used every second on the ice getting better.”

Corkish said Bassett was a perfect fit for the staff he built at Park of Cottage Grove.

“He is a big and important piece for us,” he said. “He brought a lot to us. It is awesome having him on board.”

Bassett succeeded at every level of hockey, leading to a two-year professional career in the UHL where he played for the Quad City Mallards in 2004. PHOTO SUBMITTED

Bassett’s relationship with both Bell and Corkish came about through a shared passion for hockey. While the game is played to see who scores the most goals, over the years the wins and losses become secondary to the relationships that are made.

Bassett is seeing that translate in real time with his recent diagnosis. The hockey community has rallied, as it often does, to be there for one of their own.

“I’ve always seen how the community comes together from the outside, but now that it’s one of our own and someone close to us, it’s heartwarming to know how much love is out there,” said Corkish.

Bassett said he has been overwhelmed with the amount of support he has received since his diagnosis became public with the announcement of a benefit April 14 at Cottage Grove Ice Arena.

“The outreach has been unbelievable,” he said. “From the hockey community and even outside the hockey community. I’m getting texts from guys I didn’t even play with but are buddies with a guy I did play with 15 or 20 years ago. People have been phenomenal.”

Bell said he’s been receiving donations for the benefit to be held April 14 at Cottage Grove Ice Arena, including memorabilia from the Minnesota Wild and former North Star Neal Broten.

“It’s pretty cool to have your professional club in town rally around a local hockey coach,” said Bell. “In Minnesota, hockey is such a big part of so many peoples lives. The hockey community is very tight.”

The benefit is set up to provide support to the Bassetts as they take on the road ahead. It’s a road of uncertainty, but one Bassett is ready to go down. His current diagnosis is Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Doctors told him it is an asbestos-induced cancer.

“It’s typically found in your 70-year-old pipe fitter, welder or insulator who worked in the 50s, 60s or 70s,” said Bassett. “We have no idea how I was exposed to it.”

The cancer is in Stage 4 and his current visit to the Mayo will determine a final diagnosis and his treatment plan.

“Physically I feel good,” he said. “I am ready to get the definitive final diagnosis from the experts and specialists and in a strange way I am looking forward to starting the treatments. I am ready to attack it and stand right up to this thing.”

Bassett said he hopes by telling his story it will encourage men his age to make a doctor appointment and get checked out. He said even if a person feels good, it doesn’t hurt to go in and get scanned for any potential underlying issues.

Sara and Cole Bassett.

Cole Bassett’s Caring Bridge

“I keep thinking back to guys I played with in high school and out in Michigan and my early college years,” he said. “Guys my age now. Who else might have something going on and they don’t even know it? I just want to be able to spread awareness and encourage any of those guys to go in and get a PET Scan or a CT Scan and be preventable.”

In the meantime, Bassett will rely on his support system as they learn more about his options. He will keep a positive attitude and like most hockey players, he is ready to take on any battle that faces him, knowing he has a strong team behind him every step of the way.

“Hockey players have big hearts,” said Corkish. “They’re full of grit. To play at the levels Cole played you have to be a special breed. It’s a tough and long road to get through junior hockey and into college hockey. He’s learned a lot more than I ever did with the road he has taken. Those experiences will help him a ton.”

Cole will bring the same attitude to his current situation as he did whenever he hit the ice, knowing he has a strong team behind him and ready to do whatever it takes to win the current battle.

“We are optimistic, we’re hopeful, we’re strong,” he said. “We’re going to beat it. I am going to beat it. I’m going to be around for a long, long time.”

 

 

A GoFundMe site has been created for those who wish to donate: https://gofund.me/73da1f8e

Brick by Brick Cancer Fundraiser

Anyone wishing to donate to the Silent Auction can contact Korie at korei@thereganhome.com