By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - The odds have to be pretty good that you are not the only person in the State of Minnesota finding it hard to stomach the Wild's recent acquisition of one of the NHL's most notorious "bad guys". 1,068 penalty minutes, five league suspensions and countless other acts that have long been fodder for scrutiny don't necessarily make Matt Cooke one of the most "likeable" guys in the league. So what was it that made Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild attracted to the 34-year-old winger?
According to Chuck Fletcher himself (who joined Michael Russo on KFAN Monday, podcastable HERE), "Matt has evolved" from the agitating player that he used to be. Following the Fletcher interview, Matt Cooke himself joined Russo and did his best to sway the opinion of Wild fans who remain skeptical of the signing. Take a peek at the transcript of the interview below and judge for yourself.
Interview with MN Wild Winger Matt Cooke - 7/8/2013
Michael Russo: That's the kind of endorsement that you've got to like to hear. Players don't like playing against you...
Matt Cooke: Yeah, I mean, I was a scorer in Juniors and it didn't take me long with Mike Keenan as my head coach in Vancouver to realize that I wasn't going to be on one of the top-two skill lines and that I had to go about my business in a different way. A lot that was considered rough-and-tough play back then now is considered illegal and it's suspension worthy. I had to do my due-dillegence to try and rid some of those bad habits out of my game. At the end of the day I just wanted to go out and see the ice. I want to play hard, I want to play physical, but I also want to stay inside the rules.
MR: What did you do to change your game and how did you go about that?
MC: I'm just going to go back a little further. I've been suspended for hits that were not too much prior to [the McDonough hit] and I just need to approach it and try to make changes and understand the game. The problem was that I didn't change my approach. With the Ryan McDonough hit I came to the realization that it doesn't matter how hard I want to change, if I don't change the approach, there's still a high risk there all the time. I always approached the game to get the biggest hit possible. That's how I was taught how to play, that's how I played the game. With the speed of the game and the way that players play the game now and the skill that's involved and the agility in everybody. Everyone wants you to turn away and avoid the check at all costs and I was taught to get the best of the check if someone is coming to hit you. I had to do a lot of video and re-train my brain to read stick position, read where the boards are, whether or not the guys knows I'm coming if he sees me coming and approach the situation differently. I prepared maybe about thirty hours of video during that suspension because not only did I have the ten games left in the season, I also had seven playoff games against Tampa. I was trying to prepare to get back in the second-round of the playoffs and unfortunately my team lost and I think that was probably the ultimate low for me.
MR: Is it tough having people who make instant judgments about you without even knowing you?
MC: It's hardest on my family I guess. When you have kids and other people involved, their emotions are in a protective state over me. They're the ones that get effected mostly by people's opinions. I've learned that for me to be effective in this game, to stay in this game I have to play a certain way. Obviously that has changed over time and has evolutionized to where my game is today. I still have to bring that physical element, there's still some of that distaste or dislike with other players and fans and media. I just accept that that's their opinion and no matter how hard I change or how hard I work to try and change, it may not change their opinions and I have to be ok with that.
MR: How much of your previous relationships with Fletcher and Yeo (from Pittsburgh) was involved in why you signed here?
MC: Without a question it plays a huge factor. Obviously having a relationship with Mike [Yeo] being the assistant coach at the time when we won the cup, that was an amazing experience. Mike is a great student of the game, was learning and had learned all the way up through coaching. I feel like his system is familiar for me which is a good thing moving forward. It's an easy transition for me coming from Pittsburgh to Minnesota and have success.
MR: How much do you know about the Wild and what do you see your role being on this team?
MC: We didn't, obviously this past season, get to see them a whole lot. I watched them on TV a couple of times. Excited about the fact that they were on a really good run and in a position to win the division down the stretch. It slipped away a little bit but they made the playoffs, which is a huge step. For me, I want to come in and I want to hopefully bring energy to the team. I want to get on the penalty kill and stay out of the box and bring those numbers up to the top of the league hopefully. I want to chip in offensively when I can obviously. I've averaged maybe, 13 or 14 goals a year and somewhere between 30 and 40 points. I feel like I've gotten stronger and better and understand the game more the older I get and maybe some of the changes I've made have helped that. I just want to make sure that I bring a calming influence to the guys. Maybe they can lean on me a little bit with some of the experiences that I've had, having a chance to go deep into the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup.
MR: (Twitter question) What were your thoughts of playing at the [Xcel Energy Center] during the 2003 playoffs?
MC: The fans were probably some of the loudest fans I've ever heard. That's a huge compliment to them. Obviously they love their team, they love their hockey. I'm not going to back down that I had some battles with some guys from Minnesota, we played their eight times a year against each other. I was a different player then. Hopefully, as I said earlier too, within a game or two I can get on their side and hopefully become a fan favorite quickly.
MR: How tough was it that people were accusing you of intentionally slicing Erik Karlsson's achilles?
MC: I don't expect people's opinions to change of me because I've not been suspended for two years, but I also don't feel like my work is done. I'm committed to the process that I've started ensuring that I'm not suspended moving forward. That incident was a freak accident. I apologized to Erik, I apologized to Ottawa, I think that truly they know that it was an accident but anytime that you lose a star you maybe view the situation or the hit differently. I think that emotions are involved in some of the things that were said and I understand that. I'm glad that he got back to play, I'm glad that he was playing in the playoffs and I hope that he is fully recovered and excels in the league from here on out because it's good for the league.
MR: Can you talk about some of your off-ice endeavors?
MC: My foundation started while I was in Vancouver. It's based out of Vancouver and it's registered nationally in Canada. We're actually in the process, or almost through the process of registering it throughout the US as well. There's a lot more possibilities that we can be involved with once we're registered inside the US as well. It's something that is dear to my wife's and my heart, we've been the spokespeople for the Ronald McDonald house for the last three years in Pittsburgh and we're very involved with a foundation called the "Pittsburgh Kids Foundation. They fully support two orphanages down in Haiti and my wife and I got a chance to travel down there last year and get involved in the community down there. God just says that you have to love your neighbor and you have to. You have to give back. For some people it's financial, for others it's time but it's not about this or that. It's about how it forms your heart.
MR: How do you play with such an edge yet have that type of heart off the ice?
MC: I think Mike Keenan molded it, you know? You take on a persona on the ice and that needs to benefit you professionally. I think what gets lost in the transition of 40 guys on the ice every night is that they see what's going on on the ice, but just because that's what's going on on the ice has absolutely nothing to do with that player as a person and who he is off the ice. I think that that's why guys on teams meet up after or know each other. As soon as the game is over, the rest is gone, it's completely different and that just speaks to that.
MR: I understand that you might reach out to the Boogard family to get their permission to wear #24?
MC: Yeah, the team told me that they're okay with me wearing it because Marty [Havlat] wore it after Derek did. I don't really feel comfortable putting it on without his mom and dad's blessing. I've sent emails off to them and if they have an issue at all, I want to make sure that they know by putting it on I'm absolutely not doing anything disrespectful. It's been my only number in the NHL, but at the end of the day I don't want to have anybody's feelings hurt, I don't want anyone to think that I am being disrespectful. I want to make sure that I take care of that before I even entertain the thought of putting the number on.