By Mary Paoletti
My best wishes to Matt Cooke's family.
His wife, Michelle, nearly died last spring because of a clogged exit valve in her kidney -- a terrifying experience for any person. I'd imagine. I don't actually have any idea what that's like. I don't know the depth of Michelle or even Matt's pain, nor do I know what trials his family went through because of her health scare.
I can only hope things are better.
On an unrelated note, I hope with wrathful seriousness Matt Cooke's promise to change his hockey style is honest.
He tries to link the two together -- Michelle's illness and his disgraceful, dangerous hits -- and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux is supporting it.
As a fan of hockey, I don't think I can.
"I don't want to hurt anybody," he said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He added that he plans to change "(his) approach" to hitting.
The suffering of the woman he married, the strain on their children... Cooke says it gave him perspective. So much so, that after he hit Ryan McDonagh with an elbow to the head March 20 (the first game his wife was healthy enough to attend since January 1) he was inspired to watch 20 hours of hits to "learn how to deliver a legal check."
This is viewed as a turning point, as an exercise in maturity.
"No more elbows. No more blindside shots. No more of the hits that have garnered him the reputation as the NHL's dirtiest player, a so-called cheap-shot artist who has been suspended four times for illegal hits in three seasons since joining the Penguins," Rob Rossi writes.
I wonder why it had to take so long.
I wonder if Marc Savard has heard about this. I wonder if he's thrilled that Cooke has "seen the light." I wonder if Savard plans to send the Penguins forward a note, something like, "Good for you, man. We all grow at different times. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way."
Or maybe Savard is pissed off. Maybe he's frustrated it took a personal trauma, instead of the one inflicted on Savard, for Cooke to want to reevaluate his reckless habits.
Again, I can only guess. Not much has been heard from Savard since he was shut down.
So I wonder what to think. Do you celebrate a villain for turning penitent, no matter how late it happens or why? Ignore the promise until it's fulfilled?
Or is it too late for some? Are some pasts unforgivable?
It's difficult to distill the hockey lesson from Matt and Michelle Cooke's.
The latter is heartbreakingly relatable. Readers can empathize, if not because the specific illness but because of a grandfather who had a stroke, an aunt who had cancer, a cousin who was injured in an accident and needed help caring for his children.
But some won't sympathize.
Partially because the two sides of Matt Cooke -- personal and professional -- have never synced up. Hockey fans are told the man isn't a monster because of the Cooke Family Foundation of hope (created because his niece was born without a heartbeat), because he calls home first after every game and because of "tender scenes" between he and his family exposed by "HBO 247".
Some of those fans aren't moved, though. Especially because Cooke's stake in each instance of compassion is obvious: he cares for those close to his heart; the instinct to protect his pack is strong.
But what about those who don't share his blood?
That's what McDonagh, Savard, Fedor Tyutin, Alexander Ovechkin, Steve Montador, Evander Kane, Keith Yandle, Erik Karlsson, Rick DiPietro, Andrei Markov, Artem Anisimov, Chris Osgood, and others might want to know. They might not think so highly of a bedside promise -- those that can fade as the pain does.
I'll wait and see what happens.
I can only be hopeful that Matt Cooke's vow to clean up his game is sincere. As long as he's a member of the NHL, that's all I can do.
I'm just not sure it can do anything for Marc Savard.