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Cooke sees opportunity in roster changes

by Adam Kimelman
PHILADELPHIA -- The glow of reaching the Stanley Cup Final didn't last long for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who saw a number of key players depart by the time training camp started in September.

The Penguins lost a lot of high-end offensive skill in Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone, but they also lost most of the sandpaper from their lineup when Georges Laraque, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall and Jarkko Ruutu all signed elsewhere.

While those players saw better chances elsewhere, veteran left wing Matt Cooke only saw opportunity.

"At the time they had lost a lot of grit -- Malone, Ruutu, Laraque, Hall, Roberts," Cooke told "It was a situation where I thought I could return some of that grit to the team."

Not to mention that he took a look at the roster and saw a team stocked with young stars on the upswing.

"You look at the lineup and I think if I play anywhere in the top three lines, I have all-world centermen in (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin or (Jordan) Staal," said Cooke. "There wasn't a bad situation for me."

The Penguins have been just as happy. Cooke was second on the team in the regular season with 101 penalty minutes and 262 hits in 76 games. He's continued to play edgy, gritty hockey through four playoff games against the Philadelphia Flyers, with 10 penalty minutes and 12 hits.

He, Staal and Tyler Kennedy have been the Penguins' best line in their first-round series, creating scoring chances and playing strong defensively. Cooke has 3 assists, including one on Kennedy's second-period goal that ended up being the winner in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Philadelphia in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

"Matt Cooke brings a presence," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's a gritty player, abrasive player, that's what he brings to the game, to our team. But he does have the ability in the offensive zone around the net make a play. He does that by skating, moving his feet and going to the net. He made that play to Tyler Kennedy by driving to the net. We had Jordan Staal driving to the net, and that opened that play to TK."

Cooke spent his first nine NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, the team that chose him in the sixth round of the 1997 Entry Draft, but was traded at the deadline last season to the Washington Capitals. He played 24 regular-season and playoff games -- the last seven of those, ironically, against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.

On July 6, Cooke signed a two-year deal with the Penguins. He's hoping the relationship lasts a bit longer.

"The situation that (Penguins GM) Ray Shero has put this team in, to have long-term success because of signing their core guys long-term, I told Ray I want to get back to being the effective player I am and know that I can be," Cooke said. "This team is set up for long-term success and to make long runs in the playoffs."

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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