The Twenty-Goal Scorer?

Matt Cooke has reached 17 goals for the season, this is already 2 more than his career high. He’s three short of the “magic” 20-goal plateau. That means that if he scores one goal every three games for the rest of the season, he will reach it. Yes I understand that he has 5 goals in the 5 games since his new linemate, Sidney Crosby has returned. Yes I understand that it has been beaten to death how well Cooke has changed his game this year.

If the season ended today Cooke would have more points (17G-17A-34P) than PIMs (30). But that isn’t as remarkable as the fact that he could seriously reach 20 goals this year. Pascal Dupuis has already demonstrated that when you play for the Penguins you can have a career year well after your thirtieth birthday, as he is currently the 4th highest scorer on the team, ahead of the likes of Steve Sullivan, Jordan Staal, and Kris Letang. Dupuis has also set a new career high for goals this season with 22 so far.

But Cooke deserves an award for this season. Even if he doesn’t reach 20 goals, he has proven exactly what makes hockey players special people. Following his season ending suspension after his vicious flying elbow on Ryan McDonagh last year, Cooke said that he needed to change his game. He needed to change it not because he needed to play in the NHL, or that he was being made a villain unfairly. He needed to change because he needed to prove to his family, to his kids, to his employers, and to himself that he was not the villain he had been personified. All he’s done this year is to prove that he is exactly that. And now he is moving close to “proven goal-scorer” territory.

I think you have to look at Cooke compared to another Pittsburgh sports figure, let’s pick James Harrison. When Harrison was suspended for one game for a violent and dangerous hit two seasons ago he cried and he bitched and he moaned that he would have to “retire” because he could no longer play his “game.” He has to this point still never apologized for saying those things, nor acknowledged that what he did was wrong. What sort of message can we take from that? That when you’re filthy rich you don’t have to be accountable for your actions?

When you’re a kid playing sports you are always taught important life lessons through the sport you play. Your coaches use the pros, the figures that you idolize as “heroes” and use what they do as teaching points. What can you teach from Harrison? I have no idea. What can you teach from Cooke’s actions? Any message you want. Cooke has proven that you can make millions and be accountable for your actions, he has proven that you can always change and adapt, he proves that if you work hard and give everything you can do whatever you like in the world.
If you want to know why I write about hockey this is it. You can go down the list; hockey players very seldom make the news for the wrong reason. What does Sidney Crosby do when he’s off the ice? He provides hockey equipment for thousands of young hockey hopefuls. Oh, and he enables them to get free concussion testing so that they never have to deal with what he’s dealt with in the past year and a couple months. What does Evgeni Malkin do? Well so far he’s helped to raise some hundreds of thousands of dollars for the families of the Lokomotiv hockey team who were killed in a horrifying plane crash. Both of them have charity suites at Consol, which are reserved for children’s, and special needs groups. And that’s to say nothing for the millions that Mario Lemeiux has raised for cancer research and hospital conditions.

And then again, you flip back to football. When do football players make the news? Well in Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger has made the news a few times for off the field events. There was the motorcycle crash, then there were the first rape allegations, then there were the second rape allegations. Yeah that’s about. If he’s not making money, he doesn’t want to be there. Then there is sweet and beloved Hines Ward; he was only arrested twice last offseason. Admittedly, one of those times there was a simple miscommunication with the person whose car he happened to borrow, without really asking. But as far as I know, that DUI is gonna stick.

I mean it’s not an absolute thing—let us not forget Patrick Kane beating up his cab driver over $.15. Hell, even Jordan Staal got an underage once upon a time. And you can’t forget about Charlie Batch and his determination to rebuild the Homestead/ Steel Valley area where he grew up. But anyway, I’ve been digressing.

The NHL doesn’t have a “Comeback Player of the Year” award. And I must say, it would still be a challenge for Cooke to win, even to finish ahead of teammates Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin, who have probably been more spectacular in their comeback efforts, let alone other figures like Brian Elliott and Jaromir Jagr. I think the NHL needs to do something to acknowledge Cooke’s efforts though. The award that would fit the Cookie Monster best would be the Bill Masterton Memorial trophy, which rewards the “National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” I’m not even saying that Cooke needs to win, but it would be fair for him to be nominated.

These are all things that Cooke has excelled at this year. In a year where concussions still garner most of the national attention, and constant challenges are being made where “player safety” is concerned, the NHL needs to draw attention to its successes, what better way than to acknowledge the New Matt Cooke.

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