No, this is not a typo. No, this is not a joke. And no, you are not reading it wrong. Penguins forward Matt Cooke has been nominated by local media for the NHL’s Masterton award which goes to the player who has overcome adversity while showing sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Cooke, has had a transformation season after being suspended twice last season, and missing the playoff series against Tampa Bay where the Pens lost in seven games.
Although Cooke has had the persona of a bad boy or instigator for much of his career, he has been a vital part of the Penguins penalty kill the past few years.
Many people don’t know the personal issues Cooke was battling towards the end of last season. A day after the Penguins participated in the Winter Classic, his wife fell deathly ill. Doctors believed it was a reoccurrence of a serious kidney infection. Cooke, meanwhile, was 600 miles away from his wife’s hospital room in Pittsburgh.
After he couldn’t get in touch with his wife, he got a concerning call from her doctor. The doctor told Cooke, “I think you should come back right now.” Cooke continues by saying, “I got there, and they’ve got a chaplain giving her the blessing and our kids are in that room.”
Being on the road while his wife’s condition worsened, had to be hard for Cooke. Trying to separate his professional life from his personal life, also had to be a struggle. Weeks later, Cooke found himself suspended for the remainder of the season and the first round of the playoffs after a hit on Rangers’ Ryan McDonough.
Although Cooke told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that, “I don’t use (Michelle’s health) as an excuse for anything that happened last season,” he said. “I’m responsible for my actions out there.” “He does agree that, “It all happens for a reason.” His wife even said that since their daily routine of hockey and time with their kids had to change dramatically he was “not himself” through this time.
” I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he said. Well, fast-forward to the present. The Penguins were on a 11 game winning streak in which Matt Cooke had a hand in. With Sidney Crosby’s return, Cooke was lucky enough to win a spot on his line along with Tyler Kennedy. In the past three games with his new line, Cooke had four points. He is also having a career year, with a career high 16 goals and only 30 penalty minutes.
After watching the Penguins lose in game seven of the first round of the playoffs he promised himself and his teammates that he would never watch that happen again. While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were sitting in the press box out with injuries, while he was missing time due to his suspension, he felt partially responsible for the early playoff exit. ” [Malkin and Crosby] couldn’t go. But I was healthy and sitting up there. It was a gut-wrenching feeling. I feel responsible to them. I said from the outset that I wouldn’t put them in that situation again.”
Today he watches hours of game clips feauturing hits in the league, learning how to deliver a clean check and stay away from controversy.
Being a changed player, doesn’t mean his personality has changed. His teammates will still call him the jokester who pulls pranks like cutting laces, filling skates with bubble gum, or pouring snow from the ice surface down players shirts. His intensity and love for the game hasn’t changed either. “We all play the game to win.” And Cooke has been a vital part to the Penguins success this season. The Pens have the third best penalty kill in the league and Cooke is a huge part of that.
“The playoffs are the time to win,” Cooke said. And this year the Penguins will have Cooke in their lineup this year where teams should be scared of his skills, not just his hits.
So next time you think of Matt Cooke think of the family man, team player, prankster and human being who brings perseverance and dedication to the game of hockey.
In a world that loves hearing about the underdog, here you go. Meet the New Matt Cooke. The Pittsburgh Penguins Masterton Nominee, coming to an arena near you.