By now we all know what Matt Cooke’s M.O. is when he’s on the ice. He’s going to stir things up by being physical. He’s going to be in your face and chances are a scrum is going to develop thanks to his mere presence on the ice.
Last night against Columbus, Cooke wasn’t in anyone’s face but instead was burying himself between the numbers on Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin. Cooke received a five-minute major for charging Tyutin in the first period when he ran Tyutin from behind into the boards skating at full speed from a distance out to do it. (See video of the hit here on YouTube)
After the hit, Derick Brassard grabbed Cooke to fight him and the two threw down giving Cooke another five minutes for the scrap. Despite the dirty hit being both a textbook definition of charging and boarding, he got to stay in the game. When the interested parties were asked about the hit after the game, the battle lines were drawn in support of their own case as Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch gathered.
The Blue Jackets were understandably outraged.
“It was the worst hit I’ve ever had from behind,” said Tyutin, who did not miss a shift. “I wasn’t surprised not when you see (Cooke) in the highlights all the time for dirty hits.”
Jackets alternate captain R.J. Umberger also addressed the hit that occurred behind his team’s net at 14:42. “I thought it was blatant from behind. He had plenty of time to slow down.”
The Penguins, meanwhile, offered up some excuses that if offered up in a court case would lead to public outrage.
“(Tyutin) makes sure that he keeps his numbers (on the back of the jersey) toward him,” Bylsma said. “Matt Cooke did hit him there and sent him into the boards.”
Cooke also blamed the victim.
“It used to be you were responsible for yourself if you turned, but that’s not the way anymore,” Cooke told the Post-Gazette. “That call’s been called on us four or five times this year. It’s the same thing.
“He turns and looks and sees me coming. The other defenseman is slowing me down, so I’m not skating full speed at him.”
We don’t know who or what exactly Tyutin was looking at when he peered over his shoulder heading into the corner, but for Bylsma and Cooke to both blame Tyutin for getting obliterated from behind is ludicrous. Seeing a guy’s numbers when you’re going into the corner means you don’t hit the player from behind as he’s not looking. That’s never been OK to do and it’s certainly not legal to do in the NHL’s mind. To essentially say that Tyutin was asking for it is infuriating criminal logic and wrong.
If you think you’re alone in believing that Cooke’s intent was malicious, Jeremy Roenick sounded off in a big way this morning on XM Home Ice. Roenick said Cooke was “chickens–t” for hitting Tyutin like that and that he should be suspended for 20 games. When a guy’s game is able to push buttons like this both on and off the ice he’s either really good at his job or a problem child out of control. Count us in on the latter when it comes to Matt Cooke.
The NHL is meeting Cooke on Thursday over the phone to discuss a possible suspension for the hit and this time, after so many instances in the past when dealing with a problem player, and that’s exactly what Cooke is now after the Savard incident and after his knee-on-knee hit with Alex Ovechkin just on Sunday, a clear message has to be sent that constant malicious behavior cannot be tolerated anymore. In this case, giving Cooke a “lifetime achievement” type of suspension that sends the message that they won’t stand for intentionally evil hits like these are not part of the NHL would do a world of good.
Matt Cooke is already a pariah after his disgusting hit on Marc Savard last season that for all intents and purposes has ruined his career, making him an example for the rest of the league that carrying yourself without respect for one another on the ice would go over well in every city except Pittsburgh. Many Penguins fans blindly take up for Cooke’s case and have even fabricated their beliefs rallying behind Bylsma’s take on things, but even a nice guy like Bylsma who has to stick up for his players in the darkest of moments has to be wondering what possesses Cooke to consistently do things like this to put his team in danger.
Whether the league comes down hard on Cooke or not (and we’re suspecting they won’t if the past has taught us anything) we’re hoping the point that this brand of disgusting and reckless play can be put to an end. Playing physical and finishing your check is fine and a great part of hockey. When going out of your way to attempt to injure players to do so is when it all goes wrong. If the NHL wants to send that message and give Cooke a stiff punishment, we’re all for it. A fine or a slap on the wrist courtesy suspension isn’t going to cut it anymore.