Penguins' Cooke still a target
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When Penguins winger Matt Cooke woke up in Boston March 18, he saw his picture on the cover of the tabloid Boston Herald under a screaming headline: "WANTED ... At Least One Bruin To Teach This Bum A Lesson."
Talk about ruining your morning coffee.
But Cooke insisted Saturday after scoring a goal in the Penguins' 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers that he wasn't concerned about his well-being later that night when the Penguins played the Bruins at the TD Garden. He said he knew at least one Boston player was going to target him because of his shoulder-to-head hit on Bruins center Marc Savard during a game March 7 at Mellon Arena. The hit knocked Savard unconscious, left him with a severe concussion and probably ended his season.
"I think it was a play that didn't need to happen, obviously," Savard told the Boston media Saturday, his first public comments about the incident. "To me, it wasn't a shoulder ... I think there was more of an elbow, so I think there was an attempt to injure."
Cooke has been in the NHL for 11 seasons and knows all about vigilante justice on the ice. He has seen it up close and personal. He played for Vancouver in 2004 when teammate Todd Bertuzzi hit Colorado defenseman Steve Moore from behind in retaliation for a Moore hit earlier in the season, driving Moore's face into the ice, fracturing three vertebrae in his neck and ending his career.
Cooke said he didn't think about that when he saw that "WANTED" deal. His only concern was for his wife, Michelle, and his three kids, Gabby, Reece and Jackson.
"My oldest is 17," Cooke said. "She has to go to school and hear, 'Your dad did this,' and 'Your dad did that.' Then, they talk about something happening to me in the next game and there being blood on ice. It's awful ...
"Canada made a big deal about it. People make personal attacks based on something that happened in a game. My wife and kids know me on a personal level. They know the comments aren't true. But there's no way to stop it."
That's the side of sports we don't often think about. We forget that the players don't live in a vacuum. They have a life outside of the arena. They have families. They hurt when their kids hurt ...
Hey, I'm not asking for sympathy for Cooke. He doesn't expect any. He knows he put himself in the jackpot with his hit on Savard. I thought it was a dirty hit -- and told him so -- even if it wasn't against NHL rules at the time. Beyond that, he has a history of delivering headshots.
All I'm trying to do is point out that Cooke has greater worries than what someone on the outside of the Penguins' room thinks. That includes Savard. "I'm not going to comment on what he said," Cooke said, quietly.
What Cooke did say was that he was prepared to take any punishment from the NHL after the hit. He said the league's discipline czar, Colin Campbell told him during a conference call that he "would love to whack me," but that he couldn't because Cooke didn't break any rules. Campbell said as much in interviews after the hit. It was just last week that the league pushed through new criteria that would make the Cooke hit illegal and subject to discipline from Campbell.
Cooke also said he was prepared for whatever the Bruins had planned for him. "I knew someone was going to jump me." It happened on Cooke's first shift. Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton gave him a decent beating, but hardly anything brutal, even though Thornton violated hockey's honor code by punching Cooke three or four times after Cooke fell to the ice. Cooke came through it fine, especially after the Penguins won, 3-0.
"[Teammate] Mike Rupp told me he would fight [Thornton] for me, but I didn't want that," Cooke said.
"I had to take care of it myself. There was so much talk of retaliation toward Sid [Crosby] or some of the other guys. I couldn't allow that to happen."
Cooke scored big points with his teammates.
"We all appreciated what he did," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "He did what he had to do. He stepped up to the plate ...
"I know this whole thing hasn't been easy on him."
It's not going away any time soon. Savard's comments Saturday assure that. He told Boston reporters that he has refused to take calls from Cooke, who tried to reach out to him after the hit. "I really don't, right at the moment, have any interest in talking to him. That's just how I feel. Maybe down the road ... "
Savard added that he appreciated what Thornton did but made it clear he and the Bruins will have long memories when it comes to Cooke. He insinuated they didn't get full retribution because they are locked in a fight for a playoff spot.
"This year, under the circumstances, we weren't able to do probably everything we wanted to," Savard said. "I'm sure down the line there will be other times that we play each other or another situation."
Cooke didn't blink when told of Savard's remarks. Again, he's not worried about himself, only the people at home who love him.
"I'm not going to let it bother me if we play each other in the playoffs. I can't," he said. "I'm just going to play my game. I figure if they're worried about me, they're not worried about winning the game.
"And next year? That's next year. I don't care about that now. There's nothing I can do about it."
Cooke grinned a sad sort of grin.
"Like an old friend told me a long time ago, it is what it is."
That old friend?
First Published March 28, 2010 12:00 am