The National Hockey League on Wednesday suspended Minnesota forward Matt Cooke seven games for kneeing Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie in the Wild’s 1-0 Game 3 win on Monday.
This is Cooke’s sixth NHL suspension and first since March 2011 when he missed the final 10 games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs after elbowing New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh in the head.
On Monday, the 35-year-old Cooke was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing at 2:02 in the second period of a scoreless game in Minnesota. He stepped into Barrie as the 22-year-old blue-liner attempted to make a pass.
Here is the hit, and the NHL explanation of the suspension:
Barrie left the game, didn’t return and is expected to miss four to six weeks of action with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
‘The hit … was downright ugly,” CBCSports.ca’s Mike Brophy wrote in his blog Tuesday. “Cooke lined him up, extended his knee and purposely targeted the Avalanche player's knee, just like he has done so many times before.”
Rookie Avalanche bench boss Patrick Roy called the knee-on-knee hit the “play of the game,” lamenting the loss of his team’s best offensive defenceman. The coach said he thought the play warranted more punishment than Cooke’s two-minute minor penalty.
“I think it would’ve broke their momentum. There’s a key moment in those games. And now we believe that the league will make the right call,” Roy said.
Before Wednesday’s announcement, Brophy called for Cooke to be suspended for the remainder of these players plus the first 41 games of next season.
Matt Cooke suspension history
Feb. 19, 2004: 2 games — spearing Matt Johnson (Wild)
Jan. 20, 2009: 2 games — Illegal check to head of Scott Walker (Hurricanes)
Nov. 28, 2009: 2 games — Illegal check to head of Artem Anisimov (Rangers)
Feb. 8, 2011: 4 games — Hit from behind against Fedor Tyutin (Blue Jackets)
March 20, 2011: 17 games (10 regular season + 1st round of playoffs) — Elbow to head of Ryan McDonagh (Rangers)
“Five games are not enough. Ten games are not enough,” Brophy wrote. “Cooke must be dealt with severely. His choir-boy behaviour the past few seasons goes right out the window. It means nothing. He intentionally tries to injure opponents and he must be punished harshly.
“This is a guy who targeted Mats Sundin's knee, targeted Milan's Hejduk's knee, took out Erik Cole's knee, [cut the left Achilles tendon] of Erik Karlsson, seriously injured Vinny Lecavalier's knee, nailed Matthew Lombardi in the head, smoked Ryan McDonagh in the head and, perhaps worst of all, drilled Marc Savard in the head on a blind-side hit that led to the Boston Bruins centre retiring prematurely.”
Cooke’s previous suspensions resulted in the agitating centre missing 25 regular-season games and seven playoff contests.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo, who coached Cooke as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh for two seasons ending in 2010, spoke about Monday’s incident the day after and refused to criticize his player.
"This is a guy, I don't want to get into a whole laundry list of things trying to defend him," Yeo said of Cooke, who had 28 points and 54 penalty minutes in 82 games this season. "This is a situation that happened in the game [Monday] night and I believe the league is going to handle this. They always do. They obviously looked at it very carefully."
In 2012, the NHL suspended Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres 25 games for a head shot that knocked Chicago's Marian Hossa out of the playoffs.
Torres missed 13 playoff games, and then, after his suspension was reduced to 21 games during the off-season, he missed the first eight games of the 2012-13 campaign.
Against Colorado, Cooke was part of a line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine assigned to slow the speedy trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. He was having a strong series, collecting an assist in three games, tied for third in the NHL with 18 hits and contributing to Minnesota's 10-for-11 penalty kill.
Barrie had 13 goals and 38 points in 64 regular-season games. His plus-17 rating was tops among Avalanche defencemen and third overall on the team. He averaged 18 minutes 32 seconds of ice in the regular campaign and 18:17 in the first two-plus playoff games against Minnesota.
Wednesday’s hearing was held by new NHL director of player safety Stephane Quintal, who recently took over from Brendan Shanahan after he was named president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.