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Cooke on Cooke: Extras from the interviews with City Pages

Matt Cooke has been called the dirtiest player in the NHL. He intends to prove the haters wrong.
Matt Cooke has been called the dirtiest player in the NHL. He intends to prove the haters wrong.
Tony Nelson

Matt Cooke stood in the basement of the Braemar Arena in Edina wearing nothing but an undershirt, flip flops and boxers.

So began the first of many interviews with City Pages -- some more formal than others -- for this week's cover story.

SEE ALSO: Matt Cooke: The soul of an agitator

In the end, the Minnesota Wild's new forward revealed many sides of himself. Below you'll find a taste of those conversations, which for one reason or another did not originally make it to print.

On Minnesotans:

"Everybody seems almost Canadian. Americans, in my experience, have been very guarded with their trust, and Canadians are very free with their trust. I've found Minnesotans to be very trusting very early, and I love it."

On being an agitator:

"Most people don't like to be hit. They want to have space. When I'm out there, that's what I'm trying to deny -- time and space -- and make everyone feel like when they turn around I'm gonna be right there. I don't waste time and energy to go behind and stick guys in the leg. My game is the mental awareness of where I am on the ice at all times."

On why he lives for the playoffs:

"The hits are twice as hard 'cause one clean hit that deters somebody from going back to get a puck for the rest of the series creates four turnovers, which leads to two goals. You leave an impression that affects a player for the rest of the series. It's different for the [regular] season. It could affect a player for the rest of that game but next game he's playing somebody else. Or you're playing against somebody else. It doesn't have the same carry-over effect."

On not wearing a fake tooth in public:

"You talk differently, you can't eat with it. It's just not me. And I'm just totally not a fake person. I'm just real, so I hate wearing it. First day of school, my wife's like, 'You're not going to put your tooth in?' For what? She's like, 'What would you do if you saw a dad with no tooth and full beard dropping the kid off at school?' I don't know. I wouldn't judge him."

On the type of player he grew up idolizing:

"Being from Belleville, (Toronto Maple) Leafs games were on every Saturday night. I saw Wendall Clark all the time. To me, he was very businesslike. He went out, did his work, worked harder night in and night out, but scored goals, hit, was an energy guy for his team. It's kinda the way I was taught to play."

On choosing to play for the Wild:

"I get a phone call from [Wild head coach] Mike Yeo after free agency opened up. He said, 'Would you come play for me?' Absolutely. It would be ideal because it's familiar. [Yeo was an assistant coach with the Penguins]

"There were other teams involved. At the end of the day, it was a choice to be made by me and this one seemed the most intriguing for me (because of) the commitment of the owners, the general manager. They brought players in: Zach and Sutes, you know. Having the coaching staff, knowing what they're about, their desire to win and not become complacent and push through together.

"I just turned 35 but I want to win again. I'm not here for the world-wind tour, just to skate around the ice and see how many times I can stop and start."

 

On getting permission from Derek Boogaard's family to wear his old jersey:

"If there was any type of hesitation at all, even if they said, 'Yeah, it's OK,' then I probably wouldn't have put it on. But the response from his mom and dad and family was completely overwhelming in being supportive of me, of the Wild. They were appreciative of me reaching out to them and wanted to make sure I put that number on."

On why his nastiest hits occurred while playing with Pittsburgh:

"I think what ended up happening is the game was changing and the game was changing rapidly while I was in Pittsburgh. When I was in Vancouver the game was still modeled the old way, for lack of a better term. And now, as the game evolves and it's faster and played differently, that kinda occurred while I was in Pittsburgh. So I think that exposed me or made me more susceptible to suspensions or risky hits.

"When I grew up, it was get-him-before-he-gets-you mentality. Now a lot of the guys are trying to avoid contact at all. And that creates vulnerable situations."

On the Marc Savard hit:

"I felt like it was an opportunity for me to finish my check. More so than that, I felt it was my duty, it was my job -- that was my job as a hockey player, that was my role. It doesn't mean hit somebody's head. It doesn't mean elbow somebody. But that's how I approached the game. In that situation now, I play it completely different. Unfortunately I can't go back to that.

"It's literally millimeters, not even inches, it's centimeters -- I think I do hit some of his shoulder before I hit him, but I don't get enough of his shoulder. And skating at 40, 35 miles per hour, with adjustments and everything else, that's where me understanding the risk has come into me understanding to change from the approach.

"I definitely feel bad about it, absolutely. The result was never the intention. And like I said, playing the game the way I do now, I would never make that hit. That's not me defending myself, but that's the way that I'm explaining why it happened. The really unfortunate thing about that whole situation that no one's really ever shed light on was that was concussion seven for Savard. He gets two more. He comes back and plays and then he doesn't play. Then he comes back again and (Matt) Hunwick, who is an ex-teammate from Colorado hits him and he's done. But he doesn't come back after that. And a lot of people don't think that he came back and played (after this incident)."

On his family's foundation:

"A lot of stuff we do is not for notoriety. No one knows that once a week, once every 10 days, Michelle and I would go down and hang out with the kids at Ronald McDonald's House (in Pittsburgh). For an hour, two hours, they weren't thinking about being sick. We went unannounced, unpublicized, because you teach your kids to be humble and give back."

On visiting an orphanage in Haiti with his oldest daughter:

"I've never been to that level of third world poverty -- the noises, the aromas, the stench of garbage, the sight of rivers full of garbage, going through pot holes the size of the truck that we're in. Cabs are motorcycles there, and the guy brings five people on one motorcycle. It is unbelievable. It is just so overwhelming.

"The moment we were on the plane to fly back, she wanted to go back because she'd never felt that much love because those kids just want attention. They want to hold your hand. Even 13-, 14-year-old boys, they just want to walk holding your hand."

On allowing an HBO camera crew to live with his family in 2010:

"The first week they were there, it was the most intrusive thing I've ever experienced. Cameras constantly. You'd be getting dressed and the camera's there -- dude seriously? But after the first week, we saw the product -- deleting all this tape -- and they weren't there to make us look bad. They were there to enhance the game."

On retiring, someday:

"The biggest thing I'll miss is the camaraderie, jabbing back and forth with the guys. If you stood there (in the locker room) for one morning before we skated on the ice, you'd be in stitches. Because it's, like, constant jabber. Like even today, when we were skating. I'm on the ice and (Keith) Ballard keeps turning the puck over and I'm ripping him the whole time. If you had a mic for a practice -- I'm just an idiot. I just talk.

"I've already had premature offers to get into coaching. I had to mention, 'Hold on -- let me finish playing before you try to recruit me for a coach.'"

On his religious rebirth:

"He walks ahead of you, He walks behind you. He's there the whole time. I rode the peaks and valleys of professional sports harder probably than anyone else. When things were good, great, but when things were bad I was in the tank and mentally really messed up. And knowing that I have that trust in Him, it's made those peaks and valleys a lot less steep. So I'm able to just climb steady and just keep trucking away.

"I'm proud of who I am and the road that I've traveled and who I've become."

-- Email Jesse Marx at jmarx@citypages.com or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse


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