Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I have a confession regarding Matt Cooke
Everybody has that one shunned jersey in the back of their jersey closet, which collects dust as Phil Kessel collects his press clippings this season. You might have a jersey that was an ill-advised throwback to a favourite player who had no chance of lasting with the team. You might have a jersey with a name and number combination that has found its way onto Puck Daddy's Jersey Fouls page.
I got into the jersey collecting business young, and as such, I have a lot of ill-informed sweaters to some of my favourite players. My Carson Palmer Cincinnati Bengals jersey; my John Tavares sweater being the old Islanders model, bought a year before the Isles switched their jerseys back to the vintage design. Then, if you look close enough, you'll find an autographed Matt Cooke jersey back from when he was a Canuck.
I used to be a huge Matt Cooke fan when he was with the Canucks, but that was before he morphed into the Matt Cooke he is today. There was a time when he was a pest, but he didn't hit dirty, he just annoyed. There was a time when, in the wake of the Todd Bertuzzi suspension, Matt Cooke was moved to his spot on the Canucks' top line with Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund and scored three goals and was a +9 during a six game winning streak which won the Canucks the division title.
This was a Matt Cooke who skated with his tongue out and a smile on his face. This was a Matt Cooke who fought for loose pucks in front and scored two of the most important Canuck playoff goals:
Nevermind that the Canucks ended up losing one of those games and both of those series'. Matt Cooke was once what Alex Burrows is right now. A marginal top line player who was a fan favourite. Burrows isn't dirty, just annoying if you're wearing a different jersey, and this is what Matt Cooke used to be, and, while I hate the 'pest' role, a lot of players do it very effectively without putting anyone but themselves in danger.
Oh my, Matt, how things have changed. Cooke took a run at Fedor Tyutin last night. Straight as an arrow, Cooke flew from the blue line in and hit his target clean on the numbers in a vulnerable position. He couldn't have drawn it up any better in his mind:
In his previous game, against Washington, Cooke took a run at one of Alex Ovechkin's knees. He took two 12 PIM games before that. Earlier this week, we received news that Marc Savard's season was shut down for the rest of the year due to concussion issues. He's been suffering on and off ever since Matt Cooke blindsided him and was left unpunished, despite having been suspended three times in his NHL career.
There was a time, years and years ago, when Matt Cooke's play brought people to the stands. Can the same be said today? Matt Cooke has become an inexcusable hockey player. If this is the identity Dan Bylsma wants for his Penguin team without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, something is seriously wrong.
Cooke tied a career-high with 15 goals last season and has 10 already this season and could conceivably beat that if his head were in the right place. To paraphrase his former coach Bruce Boudreau, he knows damn well what he's doing out there, and he really needs to cut it out.
Come back, Matt. After all, in my writeup in my high school yearbook, I foolishly wrote that "Everybody loves the Cooker". Not anymore, they don't.