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Pens' Cooke, Vitale join Staal on Haiti trip

| Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, 11:44 p.m.

Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal are not finished with one another yet.

Two-thirds of the Penguins' former “Nightmare Line” (along with Tyler Kennedy), Cooke and Staal will join Penguins forward Joe Vitale on a humanitarian trip Haiti.

Cooke, Vitale and Staal — the latter spent seven seasons with the Penguins before being traded to Carolina on June 22 — will join team chaplain Brad Henderson from Tuesday through Thursday in Port au Prince, where Henderson's Pittsburgh Kids Foundation has helped fund two orphanages.

“As professional athletes, we've been given the opportunity to give back,” Cooke said. “Shame on us if we don't.”

Henderson accompanied former Penguins Max Talbot and Mike Rupp, along with retired baseball player Sean Casey of Upper St. Clair, on a similar trip in June 2010.

The objective then was to finish a second orphanage, which needed a roof. This trip is to celebrate the opening of a recycling store that will donate its funds to the orphanages, Cooke said.

Cooke will be accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their oldest daughter, Gabby.

“It's one thing for parents to preach to their kids, but until they see us set an example, I don't think they can grasp it,” Cooke said of bringing his daughter.

Staal, recently married, will bring his wife. Vitale will go it alone because his wife is expecting their second child, a boy.

“It's in the DNA of a parent to protect the children, and for Matt and I, both fathers, to see these children who literally have almost nothing, I'm sure it will be painful but the kind of pain that makes you a better person and a better parent,” Vitale said.

The contrast of well-off players visiting one of the world's poorest regions at the same time the Players Association and league owners haggle over sharing billions of dollars in revenue in a new collective bargaining agreement was lost on Vitale until labor talks heated up this week.

Neither Vitale nor Cooke preferred to focus on the labor situation, but both said they were not yet pessimistic about the season starting on time. Representatives for the league and the Players Association met for three hours in New York on Friday.

Cooke said his Cooke Family Foundation, in the process of being registered in the United States, will continue to make donations to the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation. Cooke's foundation focuses generally on benefitting women and children, he said.

Companies such as Reebok and Wilson have donated ball hockey and soccer equipment that Henderson and the hockey players will present to the orphans, Cooke said.

He also added that seeing Staal, whose June wedding he attended, should not be too “weird and awkward.”

“We've become fairly close, and I hope that's something that will stand the test of time,” Cooke said. “It takes some effort. There are maybe three guys I played with in Vancouver that I stay in contact with, but Jordan's a great kid, has a great head on his shoulders, and we have a lot in common — like this trip.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5635.

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