Matt Cooke, Ryan McDonagh Hit: Pittsburgh Penguins Community Is in a Tough Spot

Laura FalconAnalyst IMarch 20, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 13:  Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Edmonton Oilers on March 13, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

During the Pittsburgh Penguins midday game against the New York Rangers, Matt Cooke delivered a blatantly obvious elbow to Ryan McDonagh's jaw in the beginning of the third period.

Cooke was appropriately assessed an elbowing major and a game misconduct. At the time, the game was tied at one but Chris Kunitz put the Pens up by one on the ensuing penalty kill. Everything fell apart for the Pens not long after when the Rangers sank four unanswered goals to win the game.

Everything really fell apart.

The reaction on Twitter following Cooke's hit could be heard all around the hockey world, from analysts to Rangers fans to Pens fans, all of them furious with Cooke's reckless play while taking guesses on the length of his sure suspension.

As a Pens fan, this was really difficult to watch, more than many non-Pens fans might understand.

As I sit here typing this, I am 100 percent sure there are people writing articles and/or tweets about how Cooke should be kicked out of the National Hockey League, how teams should have free reign on Cooke any time he takes the ice and how Penguins owner Mario Lemieux is a hypocrite for speaking against head hits since he employs Cooke.

We get it. I promise, we hear all of you loud and clear. The accusatory comments aren't going to hold much weight directed at Pens fans because many of them are probably thinking the same thing at this point, if not sooner.

Ask a non-biased Pens fan and they would quickly tell you Cooke is one of the dirtiest players in the league if not the dirtiest. After this game, many probably wouldn't mind not seeing him play for the rest of the season, even playoffs.

What makes this so difficult, regardless of what people say, is that Cooke is a great hockey player.

Cooke does an amazing job on the Pens' No. 1 penalty killing unit and understands his role on the ice, which is to make space for his linemates. He also doesn't back down from any challenge on the ice and is the first to get into the corners and do any kind of dirty work necessary.

On top of that, Cooke has been a great leader on the ice which is why he has seen time as the alternate captain. His voice resonates loudly in the locker room and on the bench.

For Pens fans, the bad hits were almost excusable because of how valuable he has been to this team defensively and offensively.

However, it has come to the point where Pens fans have started losing their patience with Cooke, and rightfully so.

His hits that have seen him thrown out of games have put the Pens in precarious positions during games, most of them close ones as well, be it an even game or one team up by one. One cannot overlook the fact that the Rangers scored two power play goals during the Cooke major and a Matt Niskanen high-stick major.

While the blame of the losses cannot rest entirely on Cooke, it's easy to point the finger at him because this isn't the first time he has put the Pens in a vulnerable position.

For as wonderful of an asset he has been on this team, he's starting to do more harm than good. Not to mention it doesn't seem like Cooke has learned his lesson.

Injuries are something no hockey fan wants to see, ever.

The Pens coaching staff, and Lemieux, need to take a stand if they want to show how seriously they take Cooke's actions. This isn't even for the sake of avoiding the "hypocritical" image, but for the sake of the team and their chances of being successful in the postseason.

I've seen a few ideas tossed around on Twitter and the most popular seems to be the Pens suspending Cooke before the league can.

Whatever is decided, this still puts Pens fans in a tough spot. We know Cooke's capabilities on the ice but we aren't immune to his dirty, ill-timed hits. That's what makes it so frustrating. We aren't dealing with a player like New York Islanders' Trevor Gillies who puts up more penalty minutes in a game than ice time in a season.

It's a given Cooke's suspension will be lengthy and well-deserved.

It's also a given that most Pens fans won't argue it.

What isn't a given is that this is easy for Pens fans to grasp.


Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Follow her on Twitter or email her at with any comments or questions.