Matt Cooke polarized his coaches as much as the fans

 

 
 
 
 
Matt Cooke stands for the anthems before a game against the San Jose Sharks in 2003.
 

Matt Cooke stands for the anthems before a game against the San Jose Sharks in 2003.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images

More on This Story

 
This is how the Cookie crumbled.

One of Matt Cooke’s best moves following a long-anticipated exit from Vancouver in a Feb. 2, 2007 trade was the manner in which the feisty winger secretly wound his way through connecting locker-room tunnels and avoided contact with Canucks beat writers. It was only after Cooke surfaced later that day on a Washington conference call that local scribes confirmed what they had long suspected.

Alain Vigneault and Cooke were like oil and water. They never mixed, and with the winger far removed from the support of former coach Marc Crawford — who saw so much of himself in Cooke — the clock was ticking on his playing tenure here, and being dealt for journeyman centre Matt Pettinger seemed like the final injustice. After all, Cooke wasn’t offered a contract extension because the unrestricted free agent had just seven goals in 61 games and Alex Burrows became a younger, cheaper and more viable option. But Pettinger bombed with just five goals in 29 games and Cooke would win a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 before joining Minnesota last season.

If anything, Cooke has been resilient and stayed in the league longer than Vigneault ever expected.

“I like Alain as a person, but he and I had some issues and we maybe didn’t quite see eye-to-eye,” Cooke told us at the time. “I also feel some things should remain unsaid and I’m not here to create controversy. I kind of expected to be moved.”

Cooke was a polarizing player. You admired his bull-like charges into the forecheck and the damage he would wreak, and would applaud his playoff presence. Those three goals in seven 2004 first-round series games against Calgary in replacing the suspended Todd Bertuzzi were telling. And sending Game 1 of a first-round 2003 series against Minnesota into overtime with 2.3 seconds remaining was timely. However, just as many shake their heads in disdain at all those borderline hits — penalized or not — that caused injury and indifference toward his tact.

Cooke would chirp and agitate but rarely fought, and that bugged Vigneault — he of the 42-game NHL career and the Bam-Bam blueliner moniker for his physical brand of play for St. Louis. Cooke fought just eight times in 566 games here and has had to fight the image of a dirty player. And as much as he pledged to be reformed when he arrived in Vancouver to open the 2011-12 season and played more under control, his blatant knee-on-knee hit last spring that tore the knee ligaments of Colorado’s Tyson Barrie resulted in a seven-game suspension.

And when Cooke received a 16-game suspension — including six in the postseason — for a March 21, 2011 hit to the head of New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh, it was named 27th in a Top 50 ranking of the worst hockey hits.

However, most of Cooke’s missteps came after he left Vancouver, which makes you wonder about what his legacy here — if there is one — really was. He could grind, had a 15-goal and a 42-point season, but was never a threat to play up the lineup unless there were injuries. But Cooke and Crawford were born in Belleville, Ont., and there was a bond on and off the ice.

“I knew so much about Matt because my brothers were teaching in Belleville and knew him as an athlete — a great football player and what he was all about — so I had inside information,” recalled Crawford. “And I just appreciated the way he played. He was an elite-conditioned guy and a lot of guys didn’t understand how hard Matt worked at being the player he was. He had to be in super condition to be able to play the antagonizing and hard-hitting game. I knew how much he was doing with the training.

“The bottom line is I loved the way he skated. He was so powerful and that just jumped right out at you — and even today. He had a little bit of a personal conflict with Alain and that happens, some don’t like certain players, and I’ve had that. That’s what happened, but he moved on and had a great challenge and a Stanley Cup and endeared himself to the right kind of people in Pittsburgh. He got pretty close to Sid (Crosby).”

There was also a softer side to Cooke.

He established Cooke’s Corner Suite 24 at the Pacific Coliseum so under-privileged kids could watch WHL games free of charge, and it was a means for the winger to reward the Vancouver Giants for allowing him to skate with the junior club during a contract impasse and a lockout. The endeavour was part of his Cooke Family Foundation of Hope initiative that was sparked by a family tragedy and he and his wife never sought publicity for the charitable commitment.

All the publicity came from those hits.

twitter.com/benkuzma 
 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Matt Cooke stands for the anthems before a game against the San Jose Sharks in 2003.
 

Matt Cooke stands for the anthems before a game against the San Jose Sharks in 2003.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice