Matt Cooke said he was “disappointed and sorry” that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie couldn’t play in Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Thursday night.
The Wild veteran said he didn’t mean to hit Barrie with a knee-on-knee collision and maintained that he truly is a reformed hockey player.
Cooke, 35, came to Minnesota from the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer with a reputation for being dirty. But since an elbow to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s head three years ago, Cooke said he worked to change his game, and he hadn’t been in trouble with the NHL since.
All that changed when Cooke’s left knee connected with Barrie’s left knee Monday. Barrie’s playoffs could be over, and Cooke has been suspended seven games — the second-longest kneeing suspension in NHL history.
“It was my intent to finish my check,” said Cooke, in part of a 90-second, unwritten address to the media Thursday afternoon. “Playoffs are a hard and physical time, and it’s my job to be physical. I’ve led my team in hits in all three games, and it’s an intense time. I’ve led my team this year in hits and in this series.”
Cooke has been suspended six times for a total of 34 games. But over the past three seasons, he has no regular-season major penalties and significantly decreased penalty minutes.
Said Cooke: “Since March 20, 2011, I’ve been a changed player. I’ve approached the game differently, I think differently about the game. The stats that I’ve collected over those three seasons prove that I’m a changed player, and the plays that I make and the plays that I don’t make prove to that point as well. At the end of the day, this situation was not my intent.”
Cooke then walked away from the podium and didn’t take questions. If Cooke so wishes, he has until Friday night to appeal his suspension to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Cooke didn’t say whether he would, and his agent, Pat Morris, didn’t respond to an e-mail or text message. An NHL Players’ Association spokesman didn’t respond to an e-mail.
Roy moves on
Cooke’s suspension length has been the subject of much debate the past day. Some felt it was too harsh (especially when one considers Chicago’s Bryan Bickell wasn’t disciplined for his knee-on-knee hit last weekend on St. Louis’ Vladimir Sobotka), some felt it was too light.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy didn’t care.
“It doesn’t matter the number of games [Cooke received],” the Hall of Fame goalie said. “It doesn’t replace Tyson Barrie. We want to see Tyson on the ice.”
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher declined to comment regarding Cooke’s suspension, but there is no doubt that with two years left on his contract, Cooke’s future with the Wild is on steady ground.
It will be business as usual once his suspension expires — whether that’s in the playoffs or the first month of next season.
Coach Mike Yeo is ready to move on.
“We always definitely respect and accept what the decision is from the league, and with that, it’s just real important that we all put it behind us,” he said.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog vowed that Colorado wouldn’t seek retribution Thursday.
“[Cooke’s] gone, so we’re not going to go looking for anybody else,” Landeskog said. “We’re not going to give [Ryan] Suter or [Jared] Spurgeon a knee. I mean, we don’t do that.
“I don’t know Cooke personally, but I’m sure he didn’t go into the hit thinking, ‘I’m going to take this guy’s MCL out.’ But you have to learn from your past experiences, and I feel like he’s had enough experiences that he should be smarter and make smarter decisions.”
Barrie is expected to miss four to six weeks because of a sprained medial collateral ligament. He was replaced Thursday night by Ryan Wilson.
Cooke’s third-line spot next to rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine was taken by Nino Niederreiter. Kyle Brodziak, scratched Monday, drew into the lineup on the fourth line between Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.
Wild defenseman Jon Blum was scratched for a fourth consecutive playoff game. Left winger Stephane Veilleux was scratched for a second game in a row.