A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Matt Cooke, not Sidney Crosby, was the Pittsburgh Penguins nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Award.
The Masterton Trophy in the NHL goes to the player that shows the most perseverance, dedication, and sportsmanship in the game. Nominees are named by each team, and the winner is voted upon by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. The award has evolved into more of a comeback player of the year award, though it was intended to honour long serving veterans.
Cooke is a bit of both. The 13 year veteran has admirably redefined himself as a player. Gone are the dirty hits, the cheap shots and pest attitude. Instead Cooke is letting his hockey ability headline his play, and it is paying off big time. He has set a new personal record for goals in a season, while taking only 30 penalty minutes all season. Those PIMs were all minor two minute infractions, no 5 minute majors. Heck, there is even a slim chance that he will win the Lady Byng Trophy as hockey's most gentlemanly player.
Cooke has always been a solid NHL player, though a lot of people could never see past the cheap shots. He is an excellent skater and thus a penalty kill mainstay. It also allows him to earn minutes shadowing top players. He is a very solid defensive forward. Offensively he is no better than average in any breakdown of his play, but he has been a consistent 12-15 goal scorer and 30 point man.
Cooke's self-imposed transformation is very commendable. It is nice to see him finally get acknowledged as a solid hockey player. Off the ice he is one of hockey's best people. He and his family have long been active in charity events and have their own foundation. The Cooke Foundation of Hope offers support for families who have a loved one, be it a child or an adult, going through tough times. It is one of hockey's least publicized but most admirable endeavours. It is a sincere passion for Matt Cooke and his wife Michelle.