After 15 years in the NHL, Matt Cooke has made a career out of misbehaving on the ice. During this time, he has been suspended five times, for a total of 27 games, and some of his worst bodily harm he was never penalized for.
Known throughout the league as a pest, Cooke has been criticized by the media, league and team executives, and players for his aggressive style of play. Notorious for giving cheap shots and dirty hits, he has well earned his reputation and has become the most hated player in the league.
On March 7, 2010 Marc Savard took an elbow to the head from Cooke that had essentially ended his career. In a ruling that received loads of criticism, Cooke was not given a suspension for the hit. However, on March 24, 2010, the league implemented a new rule aimed at prohibiting blindside hits to the head, just like the one Cooke delivered to Savard.
In 2011, Cooke received a 17-game suspension for elbowing Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the head. He was suspended for the last 10 games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. ‘Seeing the light’ during his suspension, Cooke vowed to change his ways.
“There’s still times that you can go out and get a hit and get big hits that are clean, and they’re part of the game. It was the other ones that I wanted to get rid of,” Cooke said.
Although his hit to McDonagh was his last suspension and he has gone two full seasons without being suspended, Cooke’s style has still been questioned by many members of the league and fans.
During last season, in February, Cooke’s skate blade sliced the Achilles tendon of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. Not punished, Cooke called the play a “freak, unfortunate accident.” During Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Cooke received a five-minute major for boarding on Adam McQuaid and a game misconduct.
Matt Cooke’s actions in his past have well earned him his title of a dirty player; he can’t change the fact that he has been a violent, dangerous player in the NHL. Starting the season with a new team and a fan base that already holds a grudge against him, can Matt Cooke save himself from his past?
After signing a three-year contract, Cooke spoke with Minnesota reporters, “I’m sure there’s a lot of fans there maybe aren’t fond of me and they remember when I played for Vancouver, but hopefully I can change their opinions rather quickly once I get there.”
“Matt is a player that brings a lot to the table. I think when everybody watches him as a player and focuses in on what he is now as a player versus what his reputation is as a player, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you see,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher explained.
Fletcher is confident the perception in Minnesota will change, just as Cooke says his game has changed. Hopefully he can reinvent himself as a player before his demons come back to haunt him.