Matt Cooke and his ilk will never change

Tyson Barrie. Ann Heisenfelt/AP

Years ago I covered triple-A baseball. Father’s Day was coming up, a Sunday afternoon game when they let all the Dads in for free, and my boss asked for a nice weekend read out of the clubhouse of a team called the Edmonton Trappers, then the top farm club of the California Angels. So I found a relief pitcher who was far from his family in Venezuela. He had a wife and two daughters, and missed them dearly in the days before Skype. I lathered it up as best I could, and the story of separation on Father’s Day had ’em weeping on Sports front.

I covered the game that Sunday and as I was leaving the park I looked over to the players’ exit, and there was our heartbroken Father of the Year, hopping into a convertible holding two girls, neither of whom looked very Venezuelan to me.

The moral of the story is that talk is cheap, and reporters are suckers for stories of love lost, homesick dads, and in the case of Matt Cooke, of hockey bad boys reformed.

Google “Matt Cooke Reformed” and right near the top is a piece by my mentor, Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated. The headline: Cooke Proves Change is Possible was tempered somewhat by Farber’s sarcastic lead, “Matt Cooke for Lady Byng.” It was hockey writer-speak for, “Boy, I’ll bet I’m going to regret writing this piece one day.” Many wrote on the same theme over the past 18 months or so, because it has been a story for that long. When a guy like Cooke—“suspended more often than disbelief,” as Farber so eloquently put it—cleans up his act, it’s a race against the clock to get the piece written before he messes up again.

Well, the clock just struck 12, and Tyson Barrie’s left knee is as intact a structure as my Father’s Day story turned out to be.

The “Cookie Monster” re-emerged in Minnesota Monday night, as if there was any doubt that a player suspended as often as Cooke—who ended Marc Savard’s career with a head shot—could forever change his stripes. The only question that remains is when we’ll be writing one of these columns about Raffi Torres, for whom the claims of transformation we’ve already heard in these playoffs are a tad premature. “Raffi’s a new man since he’s come to San Jose,” goes the refrain. Of course, he’s played only five games this regular season and 11 last season for the Sharks. As strong a believer as I am in the reclamation of the human soul, guys like Cooke and Torres never change.

Cooke has been a model citizen for some time. By my research, he’s been suspended six times but not since the 17-gamer—10 games and round one of the playoffs—he received for elbowing Ryan McDonagh in the head March 21, 2011. But, like the pit bull that hasn’t bitten anyone in years, Tyson Barrie inadvertently skated too near the food bowl Monday, and “Chomp!” The instincts kicked in for Cooke, whose stance is seen to be widening long before Barrie begins to avoid the hit.

In hockey parlance, Cooke’s wires crossed. He was late on the hit, and refused to abandon it. This wasn’t one of those plays where a defenceman is the last man back, and either he takes the puck carrier down or it’s a breakaway. There were three, perhaps four Wild teammates between the puck and the goal, but give the industrious Cooke credit here. He still likes to finish what he starts.

Barrie, the kind of player who actually sells tickets in the National Hockey League, is on the shelf for some period of time. (We won’t believe the Avalanche time line during a playoff series, any more than we’ll buy whatever defence Cooke brings to NHL disciplinarian Stephane Quintal’s office.) And, of course, the NHL Players’ Association will send out a representative or two in defence of Cooke, when what they should be doing is acting on behalf of Barrie and the other 885 union members and hide Cooke’s skates for good.

Of course, we’ve written that before too. It never really changes, does it?

Why should it? Matt Cooke never does.

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