The messages that Matt Cooke sends opposing players are rarely humane. But that's the position he found himself in after Monday night's game in Buffalo, approaching Patrick Kaleta and offering a shoulder of support. The Sabres forward was one day away from a suspension hearing with NHL disciplinarians.
"I've been there, it's not fun," Cooke told Kaleta, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun. "If you want to get hold of me, I'm there to talk."
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That must've sounded strange coming from a man whose career has been tainted with flying elbows. In a profile for our Oct. 2 issue, Cooke said, "I made it in the league for so long because I played a certain way." Night after night, he went out looking for the biggest hit possible. His breaking point came in March 2011 with his last and longest suspension to date -- 10 games, just like Kaleta, plus the first round of the playoffs.
Now, after some serious soul searching and training, Cooke is apparently ready to preach the good word. Change is possible. It's been two years without a serious infraction.
In his earliest appearances with the Minnesota Wild, Cooke has demonstrated a keener eye for his surroundings. During an exhibition game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he passed up an opportunity to check defenseman Will Weber from behind. There was just no telling which way Weber's head would go after the collision.
Although Cooke leads the team in points with three goals and three assists, after seven regular-season games, his bad reputation remains. He'll be subject to intense scrutiny because of his history of questionable hits, probably for the rest of his career. Even some Wild fans have expressed skepticism and vehemence.
Earlier this month, ESPN released the results of an anonymous poll in which 30 players were asked, among other things, who they believe is the dirtiest player in the NHL. Almost a third responded "Cooke."