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Penguins' Cooke leans on family, Pittsburgh in rough week

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 11:28 p.m.
The Penguins' Matt Cooke checks the Senators' Cory Conacher during the third period Monday, April 22, 2013.

NEWARK, N.J. — Penguins left wing Matt Cooke sat by his locker Thursday afternoon, looked up and smiled. For the first time in a week, Cooke was all alone.

It must have been quite a relief.

Consider what Cooke has endured during the past week:

• After delivering a hip check to Boston defenseman Andy McQuaid, Cooke was bashed by broadcaster Jack Edwards, who compared him to Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

• Before Monday's game against Ottawa, NBC commentator Mike Milbury referred to Cooke as a “skunk.”

• Fans in Ottawa organized an anti-Matt Cooke rally before Monday's game because of their belief that he intentionally stomped on the back of Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon, causing a significant injury.

• The Ottawa Sun published consecutive opinion pieces that referred to Cooke as “dastardly,” among many other more negative, controversial descriptions.

These days, Cooke brushes it all off his back.

“You know,” Cooke said, “personal attacks from announcers … they're paid to give their opinion. It's the world we live in.”

It's also the world Cooke's family lives in.

Cooke, a husband and father, has discussed the criticism with his family.

“I've told my kids and my family that we've had to deal with stuff a lot worse than this,” Cooke said. “Just take it in stride.”

Cooke leans on his family during weeks like this and also feels a particular sense of gratitude toward everything about Western Pennsylvania. Having Pittsburgh as his home and the Penguins organization by his side, Cooke insists, has made the adversity of the past week far more tolerable.

“Thankfully we're in a great place like Pittsburgh,” he said. “The team, the fans in Pittsburgh and the organization has always been so supportive of me. It's made it so much easier on my family to have Pittsburgh.”

Cooke also takes comfort in his knowledge that he really has changed. He admits to having deserved a reputation for being a reckless player earlier in his career.

The summer of 2011, though, changed the man and the player. February's Karlsson incident is the closest Cooke has come to delivering a questionable hit. He was not penalized for the hit by on-ice officials nor by the league.

Few outside of Ottawa felt the hit was intentional.

“It's definitely easy to take and to handle when I know the way I approach the game is completely different than the way it was two years ago,” Cooke said. “There are a lot of people who have helped me through that process. I've put a lot of time and effort into it.”

Karlsson returned to action in Washington on Thursday, something that brought a smile to Cooke's face.

“Freak accidents happen,” Cooke said. “But it's a lot easier to get up and talk when you know your intentions were innocent. Obviously I want Erik to play. There was no intent. The sooner he comes back, the better it is for me.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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