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

"It's not about being superstitious," Cooke says. "It's about having a routine at work."

"Oh, let's not kid yourself," Michelle says. "When you started having the soup and getting all those points it was superstitious."

"I'm not saying it isn't, but —"

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

She laughs, and finishes his sentence: "But now it just works for him."

Back in 2004, Cooke and his wife were looking for a way to honor their niece — Brandon Foley's daughter, Hope, who had been born without a heartbeat. So Cooke used his growing notoriety in Vancouver to open the wallets of the local celebrity class. With an initial 200,000 Canadian dollars, the Cooke Family Foundation of Hope got off the ground.

The families remain tight to this day. Both men moved to the Twin Cities for work and, unbeknownst to each other, found houses on the same block.

The public perception of Matt does not match his true persona, Brandon says.

"It's a complete dichotomy," he marvels. "There's an emotional hatred for him on the ice."

A 20-foot cross hangs between two mega screens in the center of the Christ Presbyterian Church sanctuary in Edina. This is God's arena, with room for 1,100. It's also the next stop on the Cooke family tour of local churches.

The pews are beginning to fill for the Saturday night service, a contemporary mix of homily, humor, and soft-rock hymns. It's a good fit for Cooke, who spends his Sundays in the service of Lord Stanley.

Today, he has traded his Wild sweater for a purple polo and a gray-and-black stripped hoodie. He takes a seat toward the back corner, looking slightly relieved that the usher didn't recognize him.

"For the first six months that happens," Cooke explains, "and then you can't really go anywhere."

Soon Cooke is back on his feet, bobbing his head and tapping two fingers against the pew. Between songs, he pulls a wad of money from his jeans and peels off a $20. His wife drops it in the collection plate.

On stage, John Crosby, the senior pastor, riffs on a passage from one of St. Paul's letters, about living with a renewed sense of purpose. Change comes to a man only after he decides to listen, not before.

"Improvement is not redemption," he adds, "even though redemption will always improve people's lives."

The rain picks up as the light through the chapel windows fades. Cooke smiles and removes his meaty paw from under his wife's delicate hand, rising nearly six feet into the air on unwavering limbs. He covers her shoulders in a gray sweater and turns to face the musicians.

Closing his eyes, he sings quietly: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."

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