Minnesota Wild left wing Matt Cooke apologized Thursday for the knee-to-knee hit on Tyson Barrie that sidelined the Colorado Avalanche defenceman for at least a month, saying he did not intend to injure him.
Cooke drew a seven-game suspension Wednesday from the NHL, removing him from the remainder of this first-round series and more. Cooke addressed reporters after taking part in the Wild's pre-game skate prior to Game 4, reiterating his past insistence that he is not a reckless player.
He did not take questions, which team spokesman Aaron Sickman said was "out of respect for the process." Cooke didn't answer when asked as he stepped off the podium whether he would appeal the punishment.
Starting somberly straight ahead and speaking deliberately for about 90 seconds, Cooke again referenced his recent drop in penalty minutes as evidence he's committed to playing a clean game.
"First and foremost, I want to say that I'm disappointed and sorry that Tyson Barrie can't play for the Colorado Avalanche tonight. I wish that he could," Cooke said. "Unfortunately, it was not my intent to collide with him knee on knee. I think it was my intent to finish my check. Playoffs are a hard, physical time, and it's my job to be physical. I led my team in hits all three games, and it's an intense time. I've led my team this year in hits and in this series."
This is Cooke's sixth career suspension for various safety violations, bringing his total of games banned to 34, including playoffs. He has also been fined four times. This was his first suspension in more than three years, since an elbow to the head in 2011 at New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh got him banned for the final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs that year.
Cooke referenced the date of that incident and said he's "a changed player" since then.
"I think differently about the game. The stats that I've collected over those three seasons prove that I'm a changed player, and the plays that I make and the plays that I don't make prove that point as well," Cooke said. "At the end of the day, this situation was not my intent."
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy wasn't exactly heartened by the news of the suspension.
"We were very confident the league would make the right decision in that case," Roy said. "No matter how many games, that does not replace the player. Tyson is very valuable to us, very important to us, and it doesn't matter if it's five games, 15 games, 20 games: We won't play with Tyson."
Wild coach Mike Yeo declined to comment further on Cooke, whose hit in the second period of Game 3 has dominated discussion the past few days. "We always definitely respect and accept what the decision is from the league, and with that it's just real important that we all put it behind us," Yeo said.