Forbes Magazine recently ranked Pittsburgh as the most livable city in the United States in a recent issue. Penguins forward Matt Cooke
wasn’t among those quoted in the story, but if he was he would undoubtedly give the Steel City a glowing recommendation.
Although Cooke has only lived in Pittsburgh for two years, both he and his family have come to appreciate the people, places and quirky traditions which make the city unique to most others in the world.
Cooke will have the chance to spend the next three years further appreciating what makes Pittsburgh so special after forgoing potential unrestricted free agency to ink a three-year contract extension with the Penguins on Tuesday.
“Pittsburgh has been a great fit for me and my family,” Cooke said. “We wanted to get a deal done with Pittsburgh. We are excited we were able to come to terms with the team.”
Cooke, who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup during his first year with the team in 2009, credited the family atmosphere which surrounds the Penguins franchise and the chance to continue fighting for Stanley Cups as critical elements in influencing his decision to sign a long-term deal with the team.
“The team has supported me when things have been great and even when they haven’t been so great,” he said. “This team gave me a chance to come here two years ago and we won a Stanley Cup together. The fans are awesome, the organization is great and the core group of guys set us up for long-term success. You would be crazy not to want to be a part of this.”
While some players, especially those who are in their 30s like Cooke is, prefer to take advantage of the chance to hit the open market and let clubs vie for their services, Cooke knew he already had the perfect fit with the Penguins.
“Any time that you change organizations and change teams there are a lot of unknowns,” Cook said. “I think it gives you a confident feeling when you know how you have been used in the past. I have a great relationship with Ray (Shero), (head coach) Dan (Byslma) and the guys on the team. That is something that is a factor when you are negotiating.”
As happy as Cooke is to return to the black and gold, the team is equally ecstatic to re-sign a player who performed so well during his first two seasons with the team.
Since originally signing with the Penguins as an unrestricted free agent from the Washington Capitals on July 5, 2008, the 31-year-old Belleville, Ontario native has scored 28 goals and picked up 61 points while posting a plus-17 rating with 207 penalty minutes in 155 regular-season contests.
Spending most of the past two years on a highly-effective two-way line alongside center Jordan Staal
and right wing Tyler Kennedy
, Cooke was able to put together one of his best seasons in 2009-10. Cooke tied a career high with 15 goals while his 30 points gave him back-to-back 30-plus point campaigns for just the second time in his career.
Cooke was even better during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs as he established a personal-best four goals to go with two assists in 13 contests. He scored twice in the decisive 4-3 overtime victory in Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators in Round 1, helping spark the Penguins from a 3-0 deficit midway through the contest.
Although Cooke knows personnel can always change in an instant, he looks forward to continuing the success he, Staal and Kennedy have had at both ends of the rink.
“We know the opportunity that is there and we know that we have had success together in the past,” Cooke said. “It gives you a confident feeling playing together for sure.”
Following one of his best personal campaigns in ’09-10, Cooke is already looking forward to the upcoming season and some of the marquee events on the Penguins schedule, including the opening of CONSOL Energy Center on Oct. 7 and the Winter Classic versus the Capitals at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2011.
“There are a lot of exciting things in the immediate future with the opening of the new arena,” Cooke said. “Our family did a tour of it and loved it. It’s also going to be a chance of a lifetime to play an outdoor game at Heinz Field.”
What Cooke really wants is another chance to raise Lord Stanley over his head, especially after watching the ’09-10 season end on home ice during a second-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
“We will be coming back with the feeling that we have unfinished business from last year,” Cooke said. “We felt like the result should have been better and that we should have come up with more. We want to get back and win another Stanley Cup.”