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Penguins brush shoulders with WWE stars

by Corey Masisak /
Jackson Cooke was one of the young stars of HBO's "24/7" last season, as the camera crew followed him and his dad, Matt, around in their matching suits one day. He also told Canadian viewers of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that he skipped school when his dad was interviewed after the Pittsburgh Penguins claimed the Cup.

Well, he's also a big wrestling fan, so Matt and Jackson -- along with a few other Penguins -- were at the WWE Raw house show Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.

"My son is a big fan, so I've been to six or seven events," Matt Cooke said Thursday morning after the team's skate before they face the Philadelphia Flyers. "It is entertaining. There's a mutual respect for professional athletes in other sports, no matter what it is. It is neat to talk to those guys and see their world. They've got questions about our profession and we have questions about theirs.

"The amazing thing to me is how many nights they actually perform. You see them on Mondays and Fridays and the odd Sundays for a pay-per-view, but they're going night after night. It is pretty neat."

James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and assistant coach Todd Reirden were also there for the event. They met WWE Champion CM Punk after the show and gave him a tour of the team's dressing room and facilities in the building.

"He had his knees all bandaged up and the ice packs on all over after the big match," said Neal, who was attending his first WWE event and isn't an avid fan. "It was fun. I didn't realize how aggressive they are and how much punishment they put on their bodies in there. It is pretty crazy stuff when they are going up the ropes and jumping down on each other. It was fun to watch. They put on a pretty great show."

Punk defeated The Miz in a steel cage match for the final showdown of the night -- much to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd. The Miz is a Cleveland-area native, and it was something he played up to the dismay of the CEC patrons at the beginning of the night.

"Yeah, they booed the Miz," Cooke said. "He put on a show too about how the Steelers aren't going to win the Super Bowl and how they lost two to the Ravens. Then the crowd had a good 'Cleveland sucks' chant going -- no different than if you're at a Steelers game, I guess.

"We've been fortunate. I've gotten to know Edge quite well. He's Canadian, and last year when they were here he came in and did a tour of the room. There was a request to give CM Punk a tour, so we gave him a tour and got to meet him. He's really down to earth and a cool guy."

As for who Jackson's favorite wrestler is ... well, his dad says he's learned not to choose favorites.

"Initially his favorite was John Cena, but the first wrestler he met was Sheamus and at the time he was a WWE champ, so he threw the Cena hat down and put his belt over [Jackson's] Cena shirt and said, 'There, that's better,'" Cooke said. "Since then, Jack hasn't had a favorite. He kind of just likes everybody."
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