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Pens' Cooke: 'I need to change'

| Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DETROIT --There is only anecdotal evidence that controversial Penguins winger Matt Cooke has found enlightenment after his latest nasty hit -- an elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh on Sunday that led the NHL to suspend him Monday through Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"After the game with me, and when I saw him at the airport and the ride in, he said all the right things," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said yesterday of Cooke. "He takes full responsibility. He sent Ryan McDonagh a text.

"The words are great, but it's going to be your actions when you come back as a player and still be a productive player in the league. That's going to be up to Matt Cooke."

Cooke, who has been suspended five times overall and four in three seasons with the Penguins, has defended himself in previous disciplinary hearings with NHL Hockey Operations. He didn't take that tact Toronto yesterday.

"In the past, I've been very defensive and have argued my point," he said. "The (Players Association) talks, they argue their point; and your agent gets on and defends you a lot.

"I realize and understand more so now than ever that I need to change. That was what I wanted my message to be.

Cooke, who did not speak after the game Sunday, asked the team's media relations staff to speak with local reporters last night. Answers to questions asked by Tribune-Review beat reporter Rob Rossi:

RR: Why do you understand now that you need to change?

MC: I'm not going to get into describing the play; but in efforts to improve the game and to have respect for my teammates, my management, my ownership... I'm fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn't hurt. I don't want to hurt anybody. That's not my intention. I know that I can be better.

RR: Your teammates describe you as a caring guy, an emerging leader on this team. Now, you've put them in a position where they'll be without you through the first round. How has it been to contemplate that?

MC: I can't (contemplate) that. I made a mistake. I'm the one that's accountable for that. I take full responsibility for it. I'm sorry to my teammates, my management, my coaching staff and my organization. It's something that, moving forward, I'll make different.

RR: Why do these hits keep happening?

MC: They've been different. They aren't the same. They're different plays and... I want to change. In the game against the Rangers, I had a chance to hit (Brian) Boyle in the middle of the ice and I didn't. I had a chance to hit (Bryan) McCabe, and he turned, so I didn't hit him. It's a learning process. It doesn't just stop with being suspended. It also doesn't just stop with words. My actions will prove it.

RR: Ray said you have to win back the respect of your opponents to stay in the NHL. How do you manage that?

MC: I just think that it's in my play, the way that I play. As I just said, my actions will speak louder than words. That's what matters most.

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