When Matt Cooke laced up his skates for his first National Hockey League game, he was nervous; the butterflies were thrashing around in his stomach like wet clothes in a dryer. Making it to 1,000 games might’ve been the furthest thing from his mind.
“I just wanted to play,” Cooke said. “The average career, I think at the time, was four or four and a half years.”
Cooke set a goal of playing in 400 games, because that’s when the League’s senior pension kicked in. The 35-year-old has blown that mark out of the water and tonight he’ll tie up the skates for his 1,000th NHL game. Coincidentally, as things often happen in sports, his first game came against the Edmonton Oilers, tonight’s opponent.
“One thousand was never a bench mark,” Cooke said. “It was never even something I thought was attainable back when I started.”
The evolution of Cooke’s career has been well documented: From a playing-on-the-edge agitator who racked up suspensions to a cagey, veteran leader in the Minnesota locker room.
“It’s been well known and documented that I’ve changed my game back in 2011,” Cooke said. “It’s a situation, the NHL got faster, bigger, stronger, but the dimensions never changed, there are more high-risk plays. I think I was reluctant to transition from two lockouts ago, pre-2005. Once I realized that’s what I had to do, I put the work in to be able change.”
The winger signed with Minnesota this past summer and has been a welcome addition to the club, both in the locker room and on the ice. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo knew what kind of an asset Cooke could be in Minnesota. Yeo was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins when Cooke was with the organization, and the pair won a Stanley Cup together with the Pens.
“When you’ve played 1,000 games, you’ve seen a lot of things,” Yeo said. “To bring in a guy with that kind of experience, but to bring in a guy who’s also won. I think that’s what’s really important to help those (younger) guys when things aren’t going well, to help those guys when things are going well.
“His overall presence in the room, he’s a guy who’s going to stand up and be heard and he’s back it up on the ice”
Kuemper In Net
Darcy Kuemper will return to goal tonight against Edmonton. He is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average, .976 save percentage and one shutout in two starts against the Oilers.
Ballard Back In
Defenseman Keith Ballard will re-enter the lineup, replacing Clayton Stoner. Ballard will be paired with Nate Prosser.
Zucker Still on the Mend
Yeo said that there’s no update on Jason Zucker’s status. The forward had a procedure on his lower-body during the Olympic break.
“He’s not really progressing too quickly,” Yeo said. “We were hoping to have him on the ice a while ago and he’s still not with us. We’ll just wait for more word on when we can take it up a notch.”
The NHL General Managers are in their annual meetings in Florida this week and NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen gives an update from Boca. Topics up for discussion include the potential modifications to overtime and expanded video review. Rosen said the GM’s aren’t necessarily looking at overturning the apple cart, but rather minor modifications in the game.
The Wild has teamed up with Josh Harding’s charity, Harding’s Hope and its the Charity of the Month. There's lots of things happening at tonight's contest involving the charity, and fans can find out more information here.