For years, Matt Cooke made a living tormenting Minnesota Wild fans as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, a heated rival of the Wild a decade ago.
Wednesday, Cooke was officially introduced as a member of the Wild after signing a three-year contract with the team on the opening day of free agency last Friday.
Though Cooke's game has evolved during the past couple of seasons, many locals remember the forward's role as an agitator with the Canucks, where Cooke spent his first nine seasons in the NHL.
But after a partial season with the Washington Capitals and five full ones with the Pittsburgh Penguins, things have come full circle for Cooke, who tried on his green No. 24 sweater for the first time during a press conference Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
"It was kind of weird," Cooke said of walking through the Wild locker room for the first time. "Played on the other side quite a bit -- when I was in Vancouver we played here four times a year.
"The fans were loud and great. All those thoughts going into being able to be on this side of the fence and skate from the other side and have the fans behind you, that's an exciting thing for me. I just want to come in here and do the best I can and help this team win."
His first act after signing with the Wild was to reach out to the family of Derek Boogaard in regards to jersey No. 24, worn by Boogaard when he was with the team from 2005-10. Martin Havlat wore the number after Boogaard signed with the New York Rangers in 2010, but nobody has worn it since Boogaard's death in 2011.
For Cooke, who has worn No. 24 since entering the NHL in 1998, gaining the blessing of the family was paramount.
"I didn't feel right putting it on without reaching out to their family," Cooke said. "Via email, reaching out to both Derek's mom and dad, both of them responded with overwhelming support."
Cooke has been a controversial figure in the NHL over the years, but after an elbow to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in 2011, a hit which cost Cooke the final 10 games of the regular season and the entire first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he vowed to change his game.
Since that incident, Cooke has not been suspended and has played in every game, carving out a role as a penalty-kill specialist and third-liner capable of putting the puck in the net.
Cooke said that's the role he envisions with the Wild.
"Hopefully I can come in and stabilize that third line, checking line that can play against a top line night in and night out," Cooke said. "Not only just in a shutdown role, but also be able to chip in offensively and help out with that aspect."
Cooke scored 19 goals, had 19 assists and was a plus-5 two seasons ago with the Penguins, playing all 82 games. He scored eight goals with 13 assists in 48 games last season.
In 14 seasons, Cooke has scored double-digit goals 10 times. In 935 NHL games, he has 153 goals, 360 points and is a plus-53.
"They really don't need me to come in and do anything special, just come in and be the player I am and the player I've been the last couple years," Cooke said. "The rest will take care of itself."
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