Saturday, February 18, 2006
Matt Cooke at the Olympic Break
Matt Cooke, the pride of Stirling, Ontario, was fed up. With two games remaining before the Olympic break, he had missed almost half of his team’s games this year. Currently, he is playing in his seventh season for the Vancouver Canucks, drafted 144th overall in the 1997 entry draft.
Last November, his jaw was broken when he was struck by a puck in practice. Again in a practice session in January, he suffered a severe sprain to his ankle after getting tangled up with Jarkko Ruutu.
Cooke, a former Wellington Duke, desperately wanted to play before the break. He wanted to test the ankle, to find his limits. His rationalization? “I’m hurt, but I’m not injured!”
And so he suited up against the Ducks and the Wild just before the break.
Normally, “Cookie” will spend between 15 and 20 minutes on the ice in a game. Coach Crawford took no chances with Cooke’s ankle, and had him spend less than nine minutes in action in the first game against Anaheim.
The following morning, Cooke tested the ankle again in practice, and declared himself fit to go for the game against the Minnesota Wild the following night.
The entire league was facing a two week break following the game. Several of the players on both teams were headed for Turin, Italy, to play for their national teams. Cooke wore the Canadian jersey as a junior, and once described the experience as “my greatest hockey moment”. Many of the Canucks including Cooke were heading west following the game to enjoy a little rest and recreation in Hawaii.
Crawford juggled his lines a little for the Wild game, a little tinkering in an attempt to find the perfect combination. Cooke lined up with Ryan Kesler, a promising first round pick, and Todd Bertuzzi---who has had more distractions in his career than Carter has pills.
In the first period, Cooke threw a long cross-ice pass to Bertuzzi just inside the Wild zone. Kesler converted Bertuzzi’s pass for his seventh goal of the season. Later in the game, Cooke and former Belleville Bull Richard Park assisted on Bryan Allen’s marker from the blue line. (Allen spent his OHL days in Oshawa, but reminded me that he did spend one season with the Ernestown Jets!)
The third period was a defensive struggle, with several skirmishes around the net---often with Cooke in the middle of things---a little shove, a tiny slash, perhaps a glove in the face of a towering defenceman. Always agitating, always a disturbance.
In the overtime, the Sedin twins worked a nifty passing play before Daniel ripped the winner past Fernandez.
For his efforts, Cooke was chosen as the first star of the game by former Trentonian John Garrett. It was the first time this year that Cookie had been chosen as a star. On the Canucks web site, he was selected as the game MVP by 33 % of the fans. More than 12 600 registered votes---plenty of people with too much spare time on their hands!
I spoke with the Wild’s Dwayne Roloson after the game. He has spent almost ten years in the NHL, including stints in Calgary and Buffalo. He attended UMASS in Lowell, Massachusettes, but prior to that he played for the Belleville Bobcats. “Moe Hunter coached the Bobcats at that time. I had tried out for the Bulls, but Mav sent me to the Bobcats,” he told me after the game.
Cookie also brought me up to date with the latest rookie report on his son Jackson, not yet two. “He is working on his slapshot, and loves to fire rockets at Bobble Head dolls.” No doubt that he is headed to the NHL.
With more than half of their season under their belts, the Canucks are in a dogfight in their Conference. They have been plagued with injuries. They have always faced huge travel times relative to their Eastern foes. Coach Crawford called the win over the Wild “huge” going into the break. Cooke felt that the win was “huge for our morale. Heading into the break, it’s nice to do it on a high note,” he reported. “ The Wild are a tough team to play against. They hang around and hang around, but you can’t get frustrated. They don’t give you a lot, but when they do, you have to put them in the net.”
I gave Matt a copy of the “Hockey Festival Guide” from the recent all star game in Belleville. There was a story about him in that issue, including a copy of his rookie card when he played for the Quinte Red Devils. It came from the Pee Wee hockey tournament in Quebec. Both Naslund and Linden stared at him incredulously when he told them he was the second biggest player on the team!
Coach Crawford, Cooke, and Richard Park also received copies of the 25Th Anniversary book of the Belleville Bulls. Park was thrilled to see the book. “I have great memories of the time I spent in Belleville. Pass on my best to everyone,” he stated after the game.
Another week of sun and surf and then back to the grind for the NHL, to complete the season, playing the best game on earth.