Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Stanley Cup Final-Cooke against Cleary
There is a bench outside the Wellington Grill. Most mornings you will find Vernon “Beef” Macdonald holding court on that bench with a couple of his cronies. This morning Beef asked me to predict who would win the game tonight. I told him I don’t make predictions. I leave that to those wiser and more foolish than I.
But the Wings do lead the series three games to two. With game six in Pittsburgh, the outcome is in some doubt.
For most of us observers in the Quinte region, from a player standpoint, the focus is on two players: Matt Cooke and Daniel Cleary.
Both have paid their dues. Both are virtually at the prime of their careers, and are excelling at what they do best. Cleary has been earmarked as a defensive specialist who just happens to have found his scoring touch in the playoffs. “Cookie” is out there to stir things up, and to pot a goal or two when the occasion arises.
Both players excel as penalty killers, a rather difficult task when you consider the firepower that each team has on the bench. On more than a few occasions in these playoffs, both players have thrown a scare into the opposition while on the penalty kill.
What stands out with both of these players is that they play with heart. They go into the corners, they protect the puck, they can take a check. They have become gritty players, invaluable to their respective teams, particularly at this point in the season.
Both know the DukeDome well. Cookie played for the Dukes in 94-95, before signing with Windsor of the OHL. Daniel Cleary played in Wellington the year before that, but as a member of the Kingston Township Voyageurs. He was drafted by the Belleville Bulls, and played four years in Belleville.
Cleary signed with the Chicago Black Hawks after his junior career, and was with them for two years. He then spent four years with the Oilers, and one year with the Coyotes before signing with the Red Wings. This is his fourth campaign in Detroit. He was thirty-one last December.
Matt Cooke hails from Stirling, Ontario, but you might find him, occasionally, at the Dairy Bar on the western fringe of Wellington during the summer break. He has been known to haunt the bays of the Quinte area, in search of that elusive pickerel.
He began his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks in 98-99, and played seventeen games for Washington last year. He has played more than six hundred NHL games, as has Cleary. At the beginning of this past season, Cookie led the scoring race between the two by two goals! Cooke had 86 and Cleary 84. Cooke had 124 assists, and Cleary had 125. Really quite remarkable.
In these playoffs, the puck has bounced a little more favourably for Cleary and the Red Wings. Daniel leads all players in the plus/minus category---a tribute to his stellar defensive play.
Cookie has done well to avoid the penalty box. At this stage of the game, penalties can be really deadly. He continues to swarm the Red Wings whenever necessary, creating a little havoc here and there.
By the time you read this column, the issue may have already been settled. One of these two will have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup high above his shoulders.
And Beef Macdonald will have all of his questions answered.