Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Punishing Penguin hated for dirty hits

It was 1 year ago that Cooke laid out Savard

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins love forward Matt Cooke for his dirty goals and the big hits he delivers that keep opponents on edge and off their game.

The rest of the NHL largely dislikes -- some players use the word "hate" -- Cooke for his perceived dirty play and the borderline hits that led the league to rewrite its rule book.

"It's Matt Cooke," Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said after Cooke's leg clipped star Alex Ovechkin's late in a Feb. 6 game, upending Ovechkin and resulting in a fight. "Need we say more? It's not his first rodeo. He's done it to everybody."

What everybody in hockey remembers Cooke's blindside hit to the head that left Boston forward Marc Savard motionless and unconscious last March 7 in Pittsburgh.

The blow not only sidelined Savard for two months, it has adversely affected his career. While Savard returned for Boston's final playoff series last spring, he didn't play again until Dec. 2, and he was shut down for the rest of the season after sustaining another concussion Jan. 22 against Colorado.

Savard won't decide until an undetermined date in the future whether he will try to resume his career next season.

While Cooke wasn't suspended for the shoulder-to-the-head hit, the NHL quickly enacted Rule 48 to legislate against checks to the head. Throughout the league, it's known as the Matt Cooke rule.

"It's perception," Cooke said Monday, the one-year anniversary of the Savard hit, when asked whether he has been judged too harshly for a play that wasn't penalized.

This season, Cooke was given a four-game suspension for driving Columbus defenceman Fedor Tyutin into the boards Feb. 8.

Still, Cooke said Rule 48 has forced him to alter his style, even though he insists he is as physical as ever.

"Oh, it's affected my game. I mean, there's new rules in place that change the way you approach the game," said Cooke. "If that (Bruins) game was today, I wouldn't have hit (him) at that point in time. Just for the risk of contact to the head."

Cooke insists he never had the intent to harm.

"Yeah, you don't want to see any of your fellow workers (be out) due to injury," Cooke said. "It's unfortunate... head injuries."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2011 D3

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