Penguins' Matt Cooke suspended

Updated: March 24, 2011, 7:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DETROIT -- Matt Cooke says he's taking his punishment and taking a look in the mirror.

The Pittsburgh Penguins left wing, whom the NHL suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for elbowing defenseman Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers in the head Sunday, told reporters he's accepting the punishment and recognizes he must change the way he plays the game.

"I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change," Cooke said Monday night, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's what I wanted my message to be."

"I'm fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn't hurt," Cooke said, according to the report. "I don't want to hurt anybody. That's not my intention. I know that I can be better.

"I made a mistake, and I'm the one who's accountable for that. And I take full responsibility for it."

It is Cooke's fifth suspension and the fourth since he signed with the Penguins in 2008. He was banned four games last month for hitting Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind.

It was not immediately clear what Penguins owner and Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux thought of the suspension or Cooke's contrite response: Lemieux was not made available for comment Monday, according to Pittsburgh-area media reports.

Last month, Lemieux lashed out at the NHL for what he perceived to be insufficient discipline following a brawl-filled game between the Islanders and his Penguins. And before last week's NHL general managers meetings in Florida, Lemieux proposed tougher suspensions for players who cross the line -- and stiffer fines for their teams.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero supported the penalty the NHL gave Cooke, saying in a statement that the suspension was "warranted because that's exactly the kind of hit we're trying to get out of the game.

"Head shots have no place in hockey. We've told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message."

Cooke said he called Lemieux on Sunday, mindful of his owner's publicly stated position on illegal hits to the head, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"Everyone knows the short-term history that's gone on with Mario speaking and the backlash he received," Cooke said, according to the report."I just wanted him to know where I was coming from."

Some of the criticism pointed at Lemieux following his February statement blasting the NHL's discipline noted that his team employs Cooke.

Shero said the Penguins would rather help Cooke follow through on his stated intentions instead of cutting him loose, according to the Tribune-Review.

"I'd prefer to be part of the solution to rehabbing him as a player as opposed to making the decision to toss him overboard to be somebody else's problem and say, 'We did our part,' " Shero said, according to the report. "He's a value to our team when he plays hockey. For him to stay in the league and be a player in this league, he's going to have to do that."

The ruling followed a meeting between Cooke and NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell at the league office in Toronto on Monday.

"Mr. Cooke, a repeat offender, directly and unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position," Campbell said in a statement. "This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke, and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response."

Cooke's unpenalized hit last season on Boston's Marc Savard started an uproar that led to the creation of a rule that bans blindside hits to the head. The rising rate of concussions in the NHL has the league on high alert and was the biggest topic of conversation at last week's general managers meetings.

Savard missed two months with a severe concussion and suffered post-concussion syndrome last summer.

"I think it's about time he gets [suspended]," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "He needs to be taught a lesson. He's doing that stuff left, right and center. I expect he'll get a bunch of games. He's got to be taught a lesson. He can't be running around doing that stuff all the time. He's going to seriously hurt someone again -- look at Savvy. He could have easily hurt McDonagh."

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a lingering concussion caused by hits to the head in successive games from Washington's David Steckel on Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman four days later.

Lemieux's complaints came after the Penguins and Islanders combined for 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts on Feb. 11.

The Islanders had two players suspended for their actions, and the team was fined $100,000 for failing to maintain control. Pittsburgh avoided a fine by the NHL, and only Eric Godard on the Penguins' side was suspended -- receiving an automatic 10-game ban for leaving the bench to join a fight.

"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed," Lemieux said then. "We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action."

Cooke didn't play in that Feb. 11 game against the Islanders because he was serving his other suspension, and he won't be on the ice for the anticipated rematch with New York on April 8.

In 67 games this season, Cooke has 30 points (12-18) and 129 penalty minutes.

The suspension is another setback for a team that has been without Crosby for two months and has lost Evgeni Malkin (knee) for the rest of the season. Crosby is skating, but there isn't a timetable for his return to the lineup.

Information from ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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