Narratives like “agitator” and “abrasive” and “aggressive” get thrown around quite liberally when describing Matt Cooke’s playing style, and sometimes rightfully so. But would you believe there is a more playful and fun side to Cooke than the one seen nightly on the ice? Turns out, Cooke can be just as mischievous off the ice as he is on it. This is because behind closed doors in the private spaces of the locker room where only teammates are allowed, he is widely regarded as one of the NHL’s greatest practical jokers.
Cooke started pulling pranks on teammates when he was a rookie with the Vancouver Canucks. With the Canucks, he underwent a sort of an apprenticeship of pranking with some wily NHL veterans such as Mike Keane and Brad May.
“My first prank wasn’t my doing,” Cooke admitted sheepishly. “Murray Baron filled Brad May’s entire BMW with popcorn. I was just the carrier of popcorn.”
After his role of simply being just the facilitator, Cooke began a long career of pranking. Sometime after the popcorn incident, in the natural (and naughty) cycle that is the life of an NHL prankster, a world where you give and you get, the forward found himself on the wrong end of an elaborate prank as retribution.
In Vancouver, he wore a sweater to practice one day in December that he really liked and truly believed was a fine piece of clothing. But his teammates had other opinions and considered it to be horrific holiday apparel. So, they devised a scheme to hang his ugly sweater from the rafters of the arena. Brad May got the Vancouver trainer to sew Cooke’s name and number on the back of the sweater and then the arena maintenance staff climbed up to the highest point in the arena to hang it. Then they called Cooke out to the ice and told him that, while his playing sweater may not ever be retired, his awful Christmas sweater surely would be.
No shrinking violet, Cooke retaliated by putting a state of the art lock on May’s locker. This, of course, only escalated matters.
“There were 15-20 guys trying to open it,” May said. “They had drills and saws and sparks were flying. The thing was cut proof.”
In Cooke’s eyes, though, any prank is a good prank. From simply putting a cup of water in a player’s helmet above his locker to elaborate long pranks that take weeks in the making, locker room pranks are a great way to stick it to some guys and have some fun during the grind of the long NHL season. In Cooke’s repertoire, messing with a guy’s equipment can be a small yet hilarious adventure. He was famously captured on HBO’s 24/7, a behind the scenes show of the two teams leading up to the Winter Classic, sneaking into the Phoenix Coyotes visiting locker room and cutting the skate laces of Coyote’s tough guy Paul Bissonnette.
“The biggest prank I’ve seen was a player’s car up on concrete blocks,” Cooke laughed. “Wheels were off the car and everything.”
Cooke’s favorite prank came as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He “helped” move all the furniture out of rookie Mark Letestu and second-year player Ben Lovejoy’s hotel room and into the floor’s lobby, arranging it like it was in their room. The team had gone out for dinner but a few guys stayed behind. Cooke and a handful of players moved the rookie’s bed, side table, dresser, lamp, TV, and even the room number plaque. When Letestu and Lovejoy got out of the elevator on their floor they were welcomed with their entire room staged perfectly in front of them in the lobby.
“Please, God, don’t be room 622,” Letestu said. When the dust settled they had only one culprit in mind. As Cooke was seen secretly snickering in the hallway, Letestu said, “Matt Cooke, totally responsible.”
Knowing their role on the team and in the world of locker room pranking, Lovejoy added, “We’re going to find who did it and probably do nothing about it.”
Even though Cooke is now only in his first year with the Minnesota Wild and still getting to know his teammates there will be no grace period for his pranking. In fact, he already has a few Wild targets in mind.
“There’s some early candidates,” Cooke said, his mischievousness accentuated by his classic hockey player smile.
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