Matt Cooke: a Bully's Bully

Inside the mind of the best pest in hockey.



Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Pittsburgh Penguins

Sean Avery is losing it—arms flapping, stress wrinkles forming like trenches above his perfectly waxed eyebrows. He’s leaning over the boards and directing threats at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench. The hockey-goon-turned-Manhattan-fashionista is used to playing the part of the pest, the guy that fans love to hate.

 

But on this November night in Mellon Arena, the New York Rangers’ forward is being out-bullied. His spastic indignation is directed at one man: the Penguins’ Matt Cooke, who just winks, flashing Avery a toothless grin that sends him into a conniption.

 

What’s got Avery steaming? It could be anything—a cross-check, a slew foot (kick to the back of the skates), a face wash (substitute a hockey glove for a bath towel) or any one of the little things that culminate in the ultimate hockey question: “Wanna drop the gloves?”

 

Both Avery and Cooke are agitators—a role that has been around since goalies wore tassel caps for helmets. A good NHL agitator is like a bad big brother—think Wayne Arnold from “The Wonder Years.” Avery is the kind that repeatedly jabs his finger 2 inches away from your face while saying, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.” Cooke is more direct—he trips you when Mom’s not looking then smiles innocently.

 

Late in the game, Avery gets so frustrated that he jumps poor, affable, rosy-cheeked Ruslan Fedotenko from behind. He gets seven minutes in penalties and a game misconduct. As referees escort him off the ice, Avery is still screaming at the Penguins’ bench. Cooke chuckles.

 

A week before Avery’s meltdown, Cooke made Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk so mad that the three-time all-star chased him the length of the ice for a fight. Kovalchuk was ejected from the game. It was only the sixth fight of his career.

 

“It’s a good day at the office if the other team is thinking about me instead of what they need to be doing on the ice,” says Cooke. 

 

Just 5 foot 11 inches, Cooke isn’t your typical NHL enforcer, but he has lasted 12 seasons in the league by relishing contact. Over the course of his career, he has spent more than 13 hours sitting in the penalty box. So how does he spend his timeouts?

 

“Most of the time I’m thinking about how I’ve been wronged by the call,” Cooke laughs. “But if I’ve spent that much time in the box, I surely must have done something wrong along the way.”

 

Call it Jekyll and Hyde or a healthy work-life balance. Truth is, when Cooke steps onto the cracked pavement of the Mellon Arena parking lot after games, he’s a different man.

 

“The first thing I do is call my family,” he says. “My oldest daughter is 16, so she’s not too fond of me fighting, but my little guy is 5 and he’s already a fan of professional wrestling, so it’s a big thrill for him.” Cooke talks about hockey with the zeal of a librarian. But bring up family and his face lights up. Perhaps it’s because he knows how precious life can be.

 

In 2006, he and wife Michelle experienced a devastating tragedy. Michelle’s brother Brandon and his wife, Jamie, were expecting their first child, Hope, but complications arose, and Hope was born without a heartbeat. After the funeral, Matt and Michelle started the Cooke Family Foundation of Hope to carry on her memory.

 

The foundation rented out a suite at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, where Matt started his career. “We had 36 Vancouver Giants games for underprivileged kids who may not otherwise be able to see games. The neat thing about the suite is that the glass is at knee height so that a wheelchair is easily accessible and the kids can have a great view. The mascot even came up to visit them.” Too humble to mention it—Cooke visited too, with presents in tow.

 

“Winning the Stanley Cup was amazing, but the best thing to happen in my life was my kids,” he says. The Cookes put the Stanley Cup to practical use during their day with the fabled trophy. “My middle daughter used it as a bowl for an A&W root-beer float. My son filled it up with doughnut holes.”

 

There’s that toothless smile again. The one that could warm your heart. Or make you throw a temper tantrum.

Matt Cooke By the Numbers:

262 Hits last season; fifth in the NHL

15   Career fights

8     Penalties taken by Cooke through 27 games this season

14   Penalties drawn by Cooke; fourth in NHL

   Matt's "must-see" TV shows: Law & Order and, ironically, Prison Break

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

The recognition comes less than month before the release of Keaton's newest film, which is generating some early Oscar buzz.
Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

The course directs runners over taxiways usually reserved for incoming and departing planes.
Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.
Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Co-owned by Franco Harris, the W Bowl brings together players from across the Women’s Football Alliance in a fierce competition.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

After his first taste of big-league ball, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow is ready for his close-up.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

The recognition comes less than month before the release of Keaton's newest film, which is generating some early Oscar buzz.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments