Monday, June 29, 2009


Welcome Home, Matt Cooke!

For more than a few National Hockey League players, there is a question in their minds about where “home” actually exists. They may be journeyman players, having travelled from team to team over many years. They may be from foreign lands, thinking about putting down roots in North America.

For Matt Cooke, home is the Quinte area, and he is happy to be home.

He has paid his dues. He has the bumps and bruises and scars that are all part of the game. He has survived. He has grasped the Stanley Cup and raised it above his head.

Matt has had a little time to collect his thoughts following the final game of the Stanley Cup finals. It was, of course, game seven of the best of seven series. His team led the Stanley Cup Champions by one goal. There was an important faceoff deep in the Penguins territory. Only seconds remaining on the clock. It was as if the situation has been orchestrated to heighten the drama to its highest possible level for the players and the fans.

The Red Wings won the draw, and had opportunity to tie the game. “Cookie” has had a week or so to reflect on the situation.

“Those were the longest six seconds of my life. All of us guys on the bench stood, watching the clock and the play at the same time. From the moment that they dropped the puck, it was like slow motion. Fleury blocked that final shot and that was it.”

The entire season came down to those final seconds, a season of some frustration and moments of doubt. “There were times when I wondered why we were playing so bad,” he told me. We had our share of injuries, with Gonchar out for such a long time, and with Fleury out with a pulled groin. We traded Whitney for Kunitz, and that turned out great for us. And of course we responded well when there was a coaching change.”

There are a number of photographs circulating on the internet of a palatial estate. On that estate is a pool, and in that pool is the Stanley Cup, surrounded by kids and adults. I asked Matt about those photographs, because they appeared to be designed, and quite unreal. He laughed. “They’re real all right. In 1992 when the Penguins won the Cup, they took it back to Mario’s house and it had a swim then. So it was only natural for that to happen again.” He added: “That is Hal Gill in the pool with the Cup!”

Comparisons were made frequently during the series with teams from twenty-five years ago. At that time, the New York Islanders were battling an upstart team from Edmonton. The Oilers were a bunch of kids led by Gretzky, Anderson, Messier, Coffey and company, and they were hungry. The New York Islanders were veterans, and many of them had already had a sip or two of champagne from the Cup.

“They said that at the end of those games that the Islanders were in the back hall with lots of ice bags on their bumps and bruises. The young Oilers did not feel the pain. I think that is how we reacted as well,” Matt added.

Cookie paid his dues in the Stirling Arena, and in Ennismore, and Madoc and in countless other small town arenas. And he is aware of the new area to be built in Wellington. He has fond memories of his year with the Dukes, before he headed off to Windsor in the OHL.

“That was a great season for me in Wellington. Wayne Marchment was a great coach. There was always camaraderie in the dressing room too, with guys like Reggie Gallagher and Chad Ford. And I remember that wall at the one end of the rink!”

Matt Cooke has just completed his tenth National Hockey League campaign. He has experienced serious injury, but has always responded well, and rarely misses an opportunity to crunch an opponent on the ice. Throughout the series, the Red Wings became more aware of Cookie’s presence on the ice, and they played with their heads up. That gave Matt’s teammates more opportunity to wheel and deal.

Silversmiths are now etching the names of Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Cooke on the Cup. It may soon arrive at an arena near you. Take the opportunity to come out to see the Cooke family, and to congratulate Matt. You might even slip out of work for an hour or two.

Players often invite their families down to the ice level following a triumph. Matt Cooke scooped up his boy Jackson after the victory. When asked about the time spent at the games, Jackson confidently told millions of Canadians watching the post game ceremonies: “I skipped school”. Interviewer Scott Oake completely lost it. “He went right to his knees!” Matt related.

For the Cooke family, it is time to relish the triumph. For Matt, a short respite. Training camp is less that two months away, hardly time to snag a pickerel or two out of the Bay of Quinte.

Welcome Home, Matt!

James Hurst

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