Matt Cooke scores quick goal in season opener, quiets the boo birds
Matt Cooke, the Minnesota Wild's new agitator
Matt Cooke sprints towards the offensive zone and pushes his opponent against the boards. After forcing the puck free with his stick, he sneaks unnoticed in front of the goal. All eyes are on his teammate Kyle Brodziak, who fires low. Cooke quickly angles his right skate and deflects the tiny rocket into the corner of the net.
It's only 64 seconds into the Minnesota Wild's home opener against the L.A. Kings on Thursday and Cooke has already quieted his hometown critics. The Wild would lose the game 3-2, during an overtime shootout, but Cooke's goal gave the team an early boost of momentum. From then on, the sprinkling of boos that had preceded the start of the game were buried in applause.
But there's no telling how long that will last. Night in and night out, for the rest of the season -- probably for the rest of his career -- Cooke will be subject to intense scrutiny because of his history of questionable hits.
SEE ALSO: Matt Cooke: The soul of an agitator
"Do you really need another goon? I'd rather have a skilled player," says one fan, 41-year-old Kelly Cooper, outside the stadium. "We'll give him the benefit of the doubt -- he's turning a new leaf."
However, Cooper adds, "If he slashes someone in the neck, I won't cheer for him."
Cooper wasn't the only fan who thinks Cooke, despite two years without a suspension, is capable of such a thing.
Twenty-five-year-old Dan Chirafisi says he grew up playing hockey and doesn't believe that Cooke's nastiest hits were mistakes. But he points to the way fans in markets such as Detroit got over their hostility for Todd Bertuzzi. While playing for the Vancouver, in 2004, Bertuzzi punched Colorado's Steve Moore in the back of the head and fell on top of him, fracturing several neck vertebrae.
"For them to accept Bertuzzi, I think we can accept Cooke," Chirafisi says.
For that to happen, Cooke will need to prove himself offensively in more than a single game, and the Wild organization seems conscious of that. His jerseys have been selling fairly well, says Jen Meyers, a manager at the team store, but there are fewer items bearing with his name or image than other star players.
"As people start to accept him a little more, we'll get more," she says, including pucks and pins and decals.
Cooke is prepared for the long haul.
"I play for the Minnesota Wild now and that's who I am," he says after the game. "From here on out, for the next three years, that's where I'm at."
-- Email Jesse Marx at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse
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