Matt Cooke: The soul of an agitator

The Wild left wing has been called the dirtiest player in hockey, but he intends to prove the haters wrong

"Don't worry," he told her. "I'm not fighting."

In the parking lot, Cooke found Brandon outnumbered, with his back up against a car. The ensuing violence had an organized chain of command. Cooke pointed to the guy punching Brandon; Cooke's buddy grabbed him by the throat and slammed him on the ground.

The gang saw Cooke's face and dispersed. Cooke went back into the bar and offered Michelle a ride in his black-and-tan Eddie Bauer Expedition.

Tony Nelson
Cooke with wife Michelle, daughter Reece, son Jackson, and pooch Braxton
Tony Nelson
Cooke with wife Michelle, daughter Reece, son Jackson, and pooch Braxton

"You brought your dad's van to the bar?" she asked, incredulous.

"First of all, it's a truck," Cooke said. "Second of all, it's mine."

When he saw her next, she asked why he hadn't called. He insisted that he had — many times — but apparently Michelle's mother, Trudy, hadn't seen fit to relay the messages. Eventually, Cooke wore her down.

"You just get to know him," Trudy says today, "and there's nothing bad."

Michelle gave birth to Reece Lynn in May 2001. The couple married that summer in Belleville and soon the family settled, along with Michelle's first daughter, Gabby, in Vancouver, where Cooke was playing for the Canucks.

It was there that Cooke solidified his reputation as a physical yet offensive player and helped turn a shaky franchise into a regular Northwest Division Title contender. Shortly after the birth of his son Jackson in 2004, Cooke was promoted to the Canucks' top line for the final 13 games of the season and the playoffs against the Calgary Flames.

"He is the horsepower, and the power behind your team," says Marc Crawford, Cooke's coach for seven of his nine seasons with the Canucks. "And all the skilled pieces get to do their thing because of the power that he had."

Scott Walker never saw it coming. He had just passed the puck to a Carolina Hurricanes teammate when an unseen force slammed him to the ground. Cooke's shoulder had grazed Walker's, then nailed him in the face.

Back on his feet, Walker quickly figured out who'd hit him and went for his revenge. A linesman cut him off and dragged him away.

Cooke took it all in, looking dumbfounded, as if he had no idea what he had done wrong. The refs gave him a minor penalty for interference. The NHL later reviewed the tape and handed down a two-game suspension, which surprised more than a few commentators.

"My guess is that the league is making good on a promise to take a closer look at hits to the head," Paul Branecky wrote on the Hurricanes' website, "and if that's the case, good for them."

Cooke put his shoulders to better use in the run-up to the 2009 playoffs and ended the season with 31 points, his highest in seven years. In the blistering last game of the finals against the Detroit Red Wings, Cooke had a breakaway run on the goal but was blocked, then shoved from behind.

After the Penguins' 2-1 victory, Cooke lifted the Stanley Cup above his head, pressing his lips to the silver chalice. Exhausted, he felt the skates buckling beneath his feet and quickly passed the trophy along. He'd been dreaming about that moment since he was a boy.

"I had it for three seconds and gave it back," he says, smiling at the memory.

Cooke fought the urge to get the cup tattooed on his body, like so many love-drunk players before him. Instead, he got the initials of his wife and kids on his wrist. He also designed a cross, but the artist refused to put it on his forearm because it'd look upside down to passersby.

Okay, Cooke reasoned. It's either the inner arm or the ribs. Which one hurts more?

The artist said the ribs.

"Perfect," Cooke said. "We'll start there."

Later that summer, Cooke packed the Stanley Cup into a silver Ford Mustang. While his friends and family prepared champagne at the cottage, he and Michelle slipped out.

They stopped at the home of Barry Wilson, the arena manager of the Stirling-Rawdon Recreation Centre who used to call Cooke when the ice was empty so that the boy could get in extra time. Cooke called out to Wilson from his porch. "I've got something for you to see out here."

Wilson exited without a shirt, but when he saw the cup, he quickly retreated to find clothes.

Two years later, Wilson's funeral would draw a thousand people. Before he died, he told anyone who would listen about the time Matt Cooke had delivered hockey's Holy Grail to his door.

"It was a highlight of his life," says his wife, Kathy.

But Cooke had one more promise to fulfill. The Mustang passed the mill pond where he and his little brother used to skate until dusk. He cut the engine along the side of the road, near a quiet stretch of grass, and set the cup down next to a headstone.

Crouching at his grandfather's grave, Cooke whispered, "We did it."

In the darkness, Cooke awoke to the sound of his wife's voice: "We need to go to the hospital."

She'd gone to bed that night with an aching back, but now it sounded more serious. Cooke rounded up the kids and drove the family to the medical center. Once there, doctors hooked Michelle up to an IV and admitted her for what they believed was a simple kidney infection.

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14 comments
peterjasonmn
peterjasonmn

And then he goes & gets the first goal of the year for the Wild.

conanwong
conanwong

Oh sure, the online edition of this article says Ford Mustang but the print edition says its a Chevy Mustang.

LuteFisk
LuteFisk

Welcome to MN Mr. Cooke, You're going to do great things. GO WILD!!!

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

Where is the puff piece about Shabazz Muhammad?   That 19 year old kid has gotten nothing but negative posts yet here we get a puff piece about a violent goon like Matt Cooke.   Shabazz Muhammad doesn't try to injury people yet all you white sports writers have to say is negative stuff about him.   Care to explain this?   The first story about Shabazz Muhammad was a negative story about his past, why wasn't the first story about Matt Cooke all about all the bad stuff he has done?  I know you mention his past but you excuse it and paint him as sympathetic as possible.  Why don't you do the same for Shabazz Muhammad?   Don't you think your editor has some explaining to do why his all white sports staff seems to cover black athletes so differently than white ones?   

Ohplease
Ohplease

@MicheleBachmannWhy isnt there a puff piece? Maybe its because he plays for the NBA and no one gives a shit about the NBA! Plus he is 20 yrs old, sucks ass at playing defense (Which is why he should fit well in the NBA cuz no one plays defense anyway) and he has a reputation of being a goon. Matt Cooke does too and doesnt apologize for it.. And quit with all the "white sports writer" crap  Race has nothing to do with this, but thanks for being a douche bag and trying to make it about race....typical. Did anyone mention his name is Shabazz!!!....poor kid.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@Ohplease  Shabazz isn't a goon.  His rep has been trashed by white sportswriters who are hellbent at painting young black kids as bad guys while making excuses for violent scum like Matt Cooke.  This whole piece is a puff piece designed to make Matt Cooke look good.  Oh his poor wife.  Oh he's a Christian.   He's a criminal.   His hits are dirty and intend to injury.  The Wild should be called out for having him on the team.  He hurts the NHL.   Injurying Erik Kaarlson last year hurt the league.   


Finally you are such a fucking idiot.  The NHL is falling behind soccer.  Everyone knows who Lebron James is.  No one knows who Sidney Crosby is except for Canadians and dumb fools like you who make excuses for scum like Matt Cooke.   Once again you are nothing but a stupid fucking idiot who knows nothing about the NBA or the NHL.  Goons like Matt Cooke are a dime a dozen.  Instead of paying him so much the Wild could have signed a goon for the league minimum.   The money spent on Cooke should have been used to upgrade at goalie.  They sent Zucker down idiot, they didn't need a crappy goon forward like Cooke.   Now they will have a weak goalie who isn't good enough to get the Wild past all the tough teams they face in their new division.  They will miss the playoffs so enjoy that idiot.  Hope watching Matt Cooke cheapshot someone is worth that.   

williamcarllindsey
williamcarllindsey

@MicheleBachmann Wow. Trashing someone who you think is violent by using incendiary, violent rhetoric. Is that supposed to be ironic? I take several issues with your statements. I will respond to each: 

- Hockey is a contact sport, where fist fights are not only allowed (with the penalty being a measly 5:00 minor that doesn't affect the team whatsoever), they are encouraged. Basketball is not a contact sport and it highly discourages players from engaging in fisticuffs. The nature of the NHL requires teams to acquire "goons" and intimidating players in order to compete. A team full of nimble fast skaters isn't going to get you very far in the NHL.

- Sure, Cooke has made some questionable in-game decisions, but he hasn't been banned from the league, nor should he be. Why should the Wild be "called out" for acquiring him? He is an eligible skater. 

-  This is Minnesota. The State of Hockey. Not the State of Basketball. We have the fucking Timberwolves to represent us in the NBA. Last I checked, they suck. A lot. Hence: nobody (at least in MN) gives a shit about the NBA. And apparently YOU know who Sidney Crosby is, so does that make you a dumb fool? Or a Canadian? 

-  As the article points out, Cooke is more than just a goon, he plays a multi-faceted game and is valuable in more ways than one (i.e. fluke or not, he tallied the first Wild goal of the season last night). Derek Boogaard (RIP) was a goon in the true sense. He was pretty much worthless on the ice aside from his ability to intimidate (and his ability to beat the shit out of people). And he was also one of the nicest, hardworking and well-loved hockey players off of the ice. Boogaard was often cheered and lauded for his brutal efforts, even earning himself the nickname "The Boogeyman." Remember, this is a job for these players. A job that Cooke does well. And a job that Shabazz has very little respect for at this point and appears to not take very seriously. 

- The last point I will attempt to make sense of is your notion that there is some sort of conspiracy against black athletes by white sports writers. I assure you, there isn't. The difference between Shabazz and Cooke is that Shabazz has issues OFF the court, as well as on it. Cooke is an experienced professional, with a loving family, out there doing his job WELL. Shabazz is a rookie kid who shows disrespect for the system, disregard for authority and had to lie about his age so he could play at a lower level. In your mind, sports writers look at that and say, "YES! Another great opportunity to smear a young black kids career by painting him in a bad light." No, that's not how it works. Shabazz did that to himself. Furthermore, why would Minnesotan sports writers attempt to purposefully and dishonestly smear the image of a top prospect who represents their home team? Answer: they wouldn't, you paranoid fuckwad. 

The end. 

smokescreen
smokescreen

@MicheleBachmann @Ohplease

I hesitate to respond because you obviously have issues with anger, paranoia, racism, and narcissism. But I can't help myself. You are out of your mind if you are seriously implying that every white sports writer wants to paint black athletes as criminals. Is there some kind of conspiracy? If so, do they have meetings? According to your logic the white sports writers must think the strongly disliked Johnny Manziel is actually black and media darling RG3 white. Last time I checked many, if not most, of the most celebrated athletes in the US are black and almost none of them are ever called criminals. Exaggerating to make a point does not strengthen your argument. In stead, it does the opposite. It hurts your credibility. And taking a few isolated examples while ignoring the majority makes you look ignorant. Good luck with your emotional problems.

 
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