The NHL lockout has wiped out training camp and more than two months of games in the 2012-13 season, but the Post-Gazette will help you catch up with the Penguins with an occasional Q&A. Today, we talk to winger Matt Cooke, who last season seemed to be reformed. He pushed aside his reputation as a reckless bad guy prone to being suspended to score a career-best 19 goals and record a career-low 44 penalty minutes. As was the case during the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, Cooke, 34, is not playing overseas but is spending most of his time in Pittsburgh, skating four days a week with teammates.
Question: How is this lockout different for you than the previous one?
Answer: Last time, we were told and prepared to be ready for a long rest. I didn't play. My little guy was 3 months old. I got to play with him every day. I didn't even really skate at all up until January. [The owners and players] were nowhere close.
Q: What do you gain from the practices at Southpointe?
A: Obviously, you're not in game shape because, frankly, you can't be there without playing a game, but we're doing some full-ice stuff. We've been working pretty hard. We've done some battle drills. I think we've stayed pretty competitive and held each other accountable to make sure that we're ready when the time comes.
Q: Does the lockout affect you more mentally since you're over 30 and don't have the bulk of your career ahead of you this time?
A: I think if you focus on that, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. I'm one of 700 guys [in the NHL], but I also believe in certain things, as does everyone else. That's the biggest difference this time -- we're all on the same page and we all believe that certain things are important to us. Moving forward, we need to have those things. Regardless of whether I was 23 or 34, it's the same.
Q: When this does get going again, are you past all the stuff that was going on before or do you feel as if you still have to prove yourself?
A: I've said since the beginning, it was a fresh start last year. I managed to have success last year. But the critics are never going to stop, and I don't expect them to. When I started out at the beginning of last year, I didn't think at any point that everything was good. It's a work in progress. It will continue to be. It's a challenge for me to stay on top of the things that I need to do to make sure that I'm at my best.
Q: What are you doing in your spare time?
A: I find that there's a lot less down time than I would have if I was playing. You make time in your schedule to make sure you're getting extra rest and staying sharp to be able to go on the ice and compete at a high level. I've spent a lot more time with my kids, with my family, with my wife. And I think that those times are precious. I haven't been able to spend that quality time with them during key times of the year when we're usually busy playing. Just being able to experience and live in their lives instead of them living in mine has been a blessing.
Q: What's your favorite meal?
A: I don't think I have one favorite. I'm a food junkie. I like them all, as long as it's fresh ingredients. It would be home-cooked. If it's home-cooked and fresh, I would eat anything.
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly. First Published December 27, 2012 5:00 AM