Wild’s Cooke to have hearing today
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL — Punishment awaits veteran Matt Cooke, and the Minnesota Wild are preparing for playoff battle without their agitating left-winger, who faces an NHL suspension for Monday night’s knee-to-knee hit on Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie.
Cooke is scheduled to appear before league disciplinarian Stephane Quintal at the NHL’s headquarters in New York this afternoon. In-person hearings generally result in suspensions of five games or more.
“The following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: Kneeing,” the NHL said in a statement Tuesday. “However, the Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.”
The nature of the Game 3 hit, Cooke’s history as a troublemaker and the fact that Barrie will miss the rest of the season — officially sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained MCL — means the Wild likely will be without one of their most experienced, physical wingers for at least the remainder of their first-round series.
The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven, Western Conference quarterfinal series 2-1. Game 4 is Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
“He’s an important player to our team,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “There’s a reason he was brought here, and physicality is only a very small part of it. It’s his leadership, his experience, his role as a penalty killer and checking forward. This is a tough loss to us. I know it’s a tough loss for them. I’m sure they’re not going to feel sorry for themselves.”
Cooke declined to comment after the Wild’s 1-0 victory Monday and was unavailable Tuesday, an off day for both teams. He was penalized two minutes for kneeing after colliding with Barrie at the Avalanche blue line early in the second period.
Yeo would neither defend Cooke’s hit nor criticize his player.
“Obviously (it’s something) you don’t want to have happen,” he said. “I think we all want to play good, physical, intense hockey. Neither side wants to see anybody get hurt. We don’t want to see one of our players get suspended.”
Once one of the NHL’s most notorious agitators, Cooke has a long history of illegal hits and has been suspended five times in his career but not since 2011, when Cooke vowed to reform after drawing the ire of his own general manager, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero, for an elbow to the head of Cretin-Derham Hall graduate Ryan McDonaugh in a game against the New York Rangers.
His absence would force Yeo to juggle Minnesota’s primary checking line just when it had found an answer for Colorado’s dynamic scoring trio in Game 3. In Monday’s victory, Cooke, Justin Fontaine and center Erik Haula iced red-hot Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, who combined for 17 points in the Avs’ Game 1 and 2 victories.
That likely means another chance for wingers Stephane Veilleux or Kyle Brodziak, who were scratched Monday night.
Meanwhile, Colorado lost its best two-way defenseman.
Barrie’s 13 goals were the most by an Avs defenseman since 2006-07. His absence on the blue line and Colorado’s power play is significant. Coach Patrick Roy said Ryan Wilson would step into the breach.
As for Cooke’s hit, Roy reiterated Tuesday what he said after the game, that referees Brad Watson and Justin St. Pierre should have been more punitive.
“It was, to me, the play of the game, losing our best offensive defenseman,” Roy said. “We thought that could have been a five-minute major and certainly have broken their momentum.”
Roy said Colorado does not need frontier justice.
“It’s not the time for that. The league will do its part. The referees will do their part on the ice,” he said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play our game. I don’t think we should focus on anything else.”
The Wild vowed to toughen up following their five-game, first-round playoff loss to Chicago in 2013. To that end, general manager Chuck Fletcher signed Cooke to a three-year, $7.5 million contract in July, acquiring a Stanley Cup winner and renowned pest with a problematic rap sheet.
From January 2009 to March 2011, Cooke was suspended four times for a total of 25 games.
He was banished for the final 10 regular-season games of 2010-11 and a seven-game first-round playoff series — his longest suspension — for elbowing McDonagh in the head. But the hit that made the biggest impact was one for which he wasn’t punished.
In March 2010, Cooke leveled Boston’s Marc Savard with a blindside hit that drew no discipline but led the NHL to adopt a new rule that specifically targets head shots on defenseless players.
Yeo was a Penguins assistant coach that season.
“I had the experience of working with Cookie in Pittsburgh and there was a history before,” Yeo said. “He was a really important part of our team, a real good person on and off the ice, and helped our team to win a championship. I was looking at what he did then and Chuck obviously as well looked at the way he’s been able to change his game, and that was kind of our focus.”
A Denver columnist pressed Yeo on Tuesday about whether an oft-suspended player like Cooke “represents the league well.”
“I’m not going to get into that,” Yeo said. “Listen, you’re asking me to criticize my player. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to get into a whole laundry list of things trying to defend him. This is a situation that happened, and I believe the league is going to handle this. They always do.”
Yeo also was asked whether the Wild need to guard against retribution.
“This is playoffs,” he said. “They’ve said it themselves (that) they’re trying to target certain guys. Likewise, we’re trying to target certain guys as far as playing physical. But nobody wants to see anybody get hurt.
“But this is a fast, physical game. Playoff hockey, it’s hard hitting. Players are always aware of that.”
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