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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

The fifth annual Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference brings writers from across the country together to improve their craft.
Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Nothing beats listening to Mike Lange describe a Penguins' goal.
Break It Down: Byham Theater

Break It Down: Byham Theater

When you walk into the Sixth Street entryway of the Byham Theater, Downtown, you will see patches of green and black tile on the walls: These are originals from the early 20th century, says John Mumper, facilities manager at the Byham. The grand theater has plenty of history to go with its 100-plus years; let’s break it down.
 Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

It’s the first time a Pittsburgh artist is headlining the annual innovation and music festival.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Remembering Henry Hillman

Remembering Henry Hillman

Reflecting on the impact of the businessman, civic visionary and philanthropist.
How David Freese is Helping to Keep Pirates' on Course

How David Freese is Helping to Keep Pirates' on Course

The Pirates’ infielder emerges as a team leader — and an offensive powerhouse.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

The fifth annual Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference brings writers from across the country together to improve their craft.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station, the excellent Bloomfield eatery, now offers lunch service. The Big Y Group opens a French bistro in the space previously occupied by Sonoma Grille.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

The third outpost of local distillery Wigle, found in the Omni William Penn Hotel, is an instant destination for cocktail fans.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

The Penguins suddenly have a lot to sort out as they attempt to respond to another disappointing playoff loss.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

Reviews of "Alien: Covenant" and "Everything, Everything," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Disney Touches: Two Couples Take on the Fairy Tale Wedding

Disney Touches: Two Couples Take on the Fairy Tale Wedding

See how these couples brought a little Disney magic into their wedding festivities

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Explore lavish homes and gardens with the West Allegheny Historic District’s annual Tour and Tasting, or go on the hunt for hidden treasure during The Great Mexican War Streets Yard Sale.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Explore Your Future with Point Park University

Explore Your Future with Point Park University

The university will host three summer workshops for high school students from July 17-20.

Comments