Milestone 1,000th NHL game reflects Cooke's adaptability

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2014 - 11:33 PM
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Wild winger Matt Cooke was honored Tuesday night before playing in the 1,000th game of his NHL career.

With his wife and three children on the ice and 20 other family members and friends in the crowd, Wild winger Matt Cooke was honored Tuesday night before playing in the 1,000th game of his NHL career.

Not bad for coincidentally the 144th pick in both an Ontario Hockey League and National Hockey League draft.

“If you want your dream, work at it,” Cooke said. “Just because you’re not a high draft pick doesn’t mean you’re not going to make it.”

Cooke, 35, has reinvented his style since a 17-game suspension for elbowing the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh in 2011. Once considered a dirty player, Cooke knew he would be out of the NHL if he didn’t change his act. He has faced no league discipline since and has turned into one of Wild coach Mike Yeo’s trusted checkers after years of productivity in Pittsburgh.

“The last three years have been a lot of fun for me,” Cooke said. “With my change in approach has come a lot of realizations and understandings of emotions and events that happen in a game that I never even knew took place because I was putting myself somewhere else to be that [villainous] player.

“So the last three years have made me feel like I have a lot more to give, and that’s fun for me, that’s exciting. … I can go out and play 18 minutes fairly easily without feeling like I might not make it through the next week. Five years ago, there’s no way I can do that with the stress I put on my brain and my body. I enjoy my teammates more, I enjoy the game more. Just everything is in a better place with me.”

Among Wild fans, Cooke used to be a detested member of the rival Vancouver Canucks. But fans showed Tuesday how much they have embraced him. Cooke is the 288th NHLer to play 1,000 games and fourth to do it in a Wild sweater, joining Keith Carney, Andrew Brunette and Matt Cullen.

“We all know the history that was there,” Cooke said. “And I believed that with the Wild logo that they would appreciate me just as the fans in Vancouver did back then.”

Haula: ‘I’m trying to score’

Wild rookie center Erik Haula said he didn’t intend to injure Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen on Saturday.

Haula was assessed a charging major and game misconduct after crashing into Lehtonen, who suffered a concussion. Haula was tripped by the Stars’ Cody Eakin and wasn’t suspended by the NHL.

“We’re up 3-2 and I’m going hard to the net, I’ve got a lot of speed, my foot gets tangled up with [Eakin], I basically fall forward,” Haula said. “I’m trying to score a goal. That’s my main intention. It’s unfortunate when I go into the locker room and see that [Lehtonen’s] hurt. It’s not a good feeling ever. I wish all the best for him and hopefully a speedy recovery.”

Haula said he felt awful afterward that Dallas tied the score in an eventual 4-3 victory during the five-minute power play.

“Having a tight race like it is, the points are crucial,” he said.

Etc.

• Yeo said forward Jason Zucker (leg) isn’t progressing as quickly as hoped, adding, “We were hoping to have him on the ice a while ago.”

• Winger Justin Fontaine was scratched for a third consecutive game. Defenseman Clayton Stoner was also scratched.

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