Over the summer of 2011, Pittsburgh Penguins' cheap shot artist Matt Cooke decided to declare he's a new man. Born Again Hockey Player, if you will. He wants a fresh start and to simply put his history of head hunting, knee hunting, and elbow-leading hits behind him.
Why the change of heart?
A few days after the 2011 Winter Classic, Cooke's wife was impossible to reach by phone. Matt began to worry, and then uneasiness became agonizing heartache.
Cooke experienced what no man should ever experience. The love of his life was hospitalized for kidney infection and possibly dying. Thankfully she recovered, and from this close call, Matt had an epiphany; "I don't want to hurt anybody," he said. "I have changed my approach to hitting."
The newest appreciation for the sanctity of life struck Matt like one of his many hundred illegal, low-life hits on the NHL ice.
Like I said, thankfully his wife recovered. No matter what immoral acts Cooke pours into the game of hockey, justice is not served through the turmoils of illness and/or death.
Matt is not a terrorist. He's not a murderer. He's not cheating the tax payers or poisoning our children's Halloween candy. Cooke is simply a man who misunderstood the morals ingrained in the physical property of the professional sport he plays. I do not hate Matt Cooke.
Hate is a very strong word. To hate someone or something means to devote gross amounts of emotion, energy and time to that person or thing. And quite frankly, Matt Cooke is not worthy of any of those from me.
I dislike Matt Cooke. His history of illegal hits angers me as a purist fan of hockey. And just because he had some revelation fueled from a saddening event off the ice does not lead me to look away from his track record. It does not allow the reborn man skate about his way with every burden lifted from his elbows shoulders.
It doesn't work that way. LIFE....does not work that way.
Cooke is no stranger to the NHL's disciplinary decision makers. I can think of a few questionable hits offhand, and so can Don Cherry --
How can one self-proclaim himself a new man and expect his peers to believe it true when you're entire career is built on a mountain of defamation? The answer is -- He can't expect that. Actions speak louder than words.
We will all be hanging on to every shift Cooke takes to the ice, interested to see if the man's heralded path becomes reality, or crashes down around him in a pile of concussed brain matter.
I haven't bought into the hype. I do not believe Cooke is a changed hockey player. CSNNE.com writer Mary Paoletti said it best; "He could start 15 foundations and it wouldn't matter. Why? This is a hockey problem. There can be no character witnesses who aren't employed by the NHL."
I'm happy to see someone able to disassociate what Cooke does off the ice with how he represents himself on it. Because the former is irrelevant.
If I walked into my office building each morning and threw a stapler into the face of our main lobby's secretary, but finished my day by tucking my son and daughter into bed after reading them Green Eggs & Ham, I'm not exactly going to be looked at as a picturesque father figure.
No. I'll be that son of a bitch who nukes Bethany's forehead with a metal office supply to start my day. A reputation not easily buried by one company-wide memo expressing how sorry I was for turning Beth's grill into a three-month old looking pumpkin.
Please pardon the pun, but Cooke's career in the NHL is on extremely thin ice. Another suspension or dirty hit could spell the end of his NHL tenure. Could this also be an influence to Matt's change in heart? No doubt. So then there's the possibility that Matt doesn't care for his opponents' health because of karma issues, but because his paycheck is threatened.
The latter is more believable given the man's reputation.
So in closing, I want you (the reader) to be sure I am not hoping Matt Cooke gets lights-out'd on the ice and winds up pedaling himself around like a paraplegic. I certainly do not wish any more life threatening scares to his family, loved ones and the people who surround him emotionally.
I just do not care for Matt Cooke the hockey player, which is all I am concerned about. He is exactly what's wrong with the sport in every sense of the message.
And what comes around, more or less goes around, and an apology to Marc Savard aint gonna cut it.