Penguins' Cooke: 'I need to change'

Winger suspended for rest of season, first round of playoffs

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DETROIT -- The consensus in hockey circles is that Matt Cooke's hit Sunday to the head of New York's Ryan McDonagh was indefensible.

It seemed fitting, then, that when Mr. Cooke was summoned Monday to the NHL office in Toronto to answer for his actions, he didn't offer much of a defense.

He wasn't interested in anyone else -- not the NHL Players' Association, not agent Pat Morris, not general manager Ray Shero -- doing it for him, either.

"I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change," Mr. Cooke said Monday night. "That's what I wanted my message to be."

What Colin Campbell, who handles supplemental discipline for the league, thought of the message isn't known, but there's no misunderstanding the one Mr. Campbell sent back by suspending Mr. Cooke for the rest of the regular season -- a 10-game stretch that began Monday when the Penguins faced Detroit at Joe Louis Arena -- and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"There certainly is a lot of substance to that suspension, a lot of juice to it," Mr. Shero said.

It is the second suspension this season for Mr. Cooke -- he sat out four games in mid-February after hitting Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind -- and fourth in the past three seasons. The previous three were for a total of eight games.

"Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position," Mr. Campbell said. "This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response."

Mr. Cooke didn't express any anger over his punishment.

"I'm fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn't hurt," he said. "I don't want to hurt anybody. That's not my intention. I know that I can be better. ... I made a mistake, and I'm the one who's accountable for that. And I take full responsibility for it."

Mr. Cooke, who will forfeit $219,512.20 in salary, called Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux Sunday night and presumably was reminded of the organization's staunch public stance against head shots.

A team official declined a request to interview Mr. Lemieux, and Penguins CEO David Morehouse also opted against discussing the issue, saying that the organization wanted to speak with a single voice Monday. In this case, Mr. Shero's.

One thing of note that he said is that the Penguins have no plans to sever their ties with Mr. Cooke "at this point," while adding that only a few players on his roster are exempt from the threat of being traded in the offseason.

"Every summer, you look at your team, and maybe you make changes," Mr. Shero said. "My feeling right now is to [have him] come back as a more productive player."

Asked if he had been given any sort of ultimatum by the team, Mr. Cooke responded, "Absolutely not."

While approval, be it tacit or overt, of the suspension appears to be universal in the organization, losing him will cause some practical problems for a team whose roster has been savaged by injuries.

"There's definitely going to be a hole in the lineup that we're going to have to find a way to fill," center Jordan Staal said. "Obviously, it's disappointing [to lose him]."

Mr. Cooke's absence figures to be felt most on the penalty-killing unit, which was the NHL's most efficient going into Monday night's games. He averages two minutes, 45 seconds of short-handed work per game, third among Penguins forwards.

"He plays a major role for us there," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Mr. Cooke also contributes significantly at even strength. He is the No. 6 scorer among players who have spent the entire season with the Penguins, putting up 12 goals and 18 assists in 67 games, and has a team-high 192 hits, tying him for 17th in the league before Monday night.

That physical element is something the Penguins don't want to remove from his game; his willingness to hit is a big part of the reason they made a three-year commitment to him last summer, something Mr. Shero doesn't often do with role players.

Mr. Bylsma said Mr. Cooke is "fully capable of playing a physical, hitting game within the rules," but acknowledged that there had been numerous times when he had failed to do so.

"We're going to have to go through and establish just where those situations are, that you still can play a hard, physical game and play within the rules," the coach said. "It's something he's going to have to learn going forward."


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