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Cooke, NHL to blame for hit on Savard

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  March 9, 2010 01:09 PM

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Hockey players like Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke are referred to as instigators or agitators. For them, the edge isn't just what is on the bottom of their skate, it's where they make their living. They skate not to the red line or the blue line, but to the border line. Players like Cooke are an accepted part of the NHL and that's part of the problem.

The euphemism for Cooke's style of play is "chippy," a term that conjures up play that is aggravating but largely innocuous. A player like Cooke is anything but the latter, as Bruins center Marc Savard learned. Cooke is dangerous, and his play goes unchecked because of some kind of primitive pucks code.

Cooke has a history of the kind of borderline blow that he leveled Savard with during the third period of the Bruins' 2-1 loss to the Penguins on Sunday, a shoulder-to-the head check of an off-balance and unsuspecting Savard that knocked him unconscious and rendered him the recipient of a Grade 2 concussion. (Patrice Bergeron's nearly career-ending concussion at the hands of then Flyer Randy Jones was Grade 3.)

The Penguins wanton left wing was suspended for two games earlier this season for a very similar hit on Artem Anisimov of the New York Rangers during a Nov. 28 game. Unlike on Sunday, Cooke received a penalty for the Anisimov hit -- he got two minutes for interference. Anisimov got a headache and his empty helmet got spun around like a top on the ice. Cooke was also suspended for two games last season for a hit on Carolina's Scott Walker.

The NHL has done a lot of things to try to clean up the game over the years. The old joke about going to see a fight and a hockey game breaking out hasn't applied for a long, long time. The league has had two referees to call penalties for more than a decade. Infractions like hooking, high-sticking, and interference are whistled with almost religious devotion to the rule book, yet Cooke can deliver a hit like his blow to Savard and literally just skate by?

Unacceptable, NHL.

In the short-term, NHL prince of punishment Colin Campbell has to put Cooke on ice for at least half of the Penguins remaining 16 games, for the totality of his actions as an NHLer. It might also serve to prevent another regrettable incident since the Bruins and Penguins play March 18 at the T.D. Garden.

Moving forward, the NHL needs to legislate plays like Cooke's out of the game.

The puck is black and the ice is white and the NHL rule book shouldn't have any shade of gray when it comes to dangerous hits to the head.

NHL general managers convened a three-day summit that began yesterday and on the agenda was head shots like Cooke's. The GMs can't pass any rule changes by themselves, but they should propose what the NFL did last year, which was make it illegal for a player to strike another "defenseless" player or hit him from the blindside with their head, shoulder or forearm in the head and neck area.

Make the penalty an automatic five-minute major, which is the NFL equivalent of a 15-yard personal foul penalty, and at least a two-game suspension. The actual length of the suspension would be at the discretion of Campbell.

Let's be clear. We're not talking about some guy skating at center ice with the puck on his stick and his head down and getting smoked head on. That's just part of hockey. We're talking about hits outside of a player's possible field of view, the NHL equivalent of a peel-back block in the NFL.

That's the long-term way to deal with cretins like Cooke, but there also needs to be a change in culture.

There is a Bruins fan blog that chronicles Cooke's questionable ice capades. We can't link to it because it uses inappropriate language to describe Cooke, but the YouTube images are telling. Cooke is not an accidental tourist to the territory of borderline play.

There is footage of Cooke leg-whipping Carolina's Erik Cole during last year's Eastern Conference Finals. There is Cooke, then a member of the Vancouver Canucks, driving Mathieu Roy into the boards from behind with an elbow during a 2008 game. There is Cooke kicking Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood in the face mask with his skate.

There was also a claim that Cooke bit a Flyers' player earlier this year.

At best, Cooke is a repeat offender of reckless and careless play, at worst he is a recidivist cheap-shot artist. Either way, he needs to be sent a message by taking a seat.

A sad side note to Cooke's conduct is that he above most players should know better. Twice before he has borne witness to serious head injuries.

On Feb. 21, 2000, Cooke watched as then Bruins player Marty McSorley swung his stick and struck then-Canuck Donald Brashear in the back of the head. Brashear suffered a concussion and memory lapses. Cooke, then a 21-year-old forward, scored the go-ahead goal in that game, a 5-2, Bruins loss.

Cooke was present for hockey infamy again four years later. On March 6, 2004, Cooke saw Canucks teammate Todd Bertuzzi's vicious sucker-punch attack of Avalanche agitator and former Harvard hockey player Steven Moore. Bertuzzi hit Moore in the back of the head and then drove him face first into the ice. Moore suffered three broken vertebrae in his neck and a concussion and has not played since.

Earlier in that game, Cooke fought Moore, part of attempted retribution for...a hit to the head Moore had put on Vancouver star Markus Naslund three weeks earlier.

If Cooke won't be compelled to change his ways then the NHL has to change its.
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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