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Matt Cooke Hate Fest time in Ottawa

Sean Leahy
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“I’ve committed to not saying anything about it until we’ve completed everything we need to do and speak to the League about it … But it will take a few months before anything comes out.”

Those were Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s words during Friday’s “Skate for Kids” event in regards to his “investigation” into the February collision between Erik Karlsson and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke that left the defenseman with an injured Achilles that was believed to have ended his season. Karlsson resumed skating this week and the chances he miraculously returns to the Senators’ lineup for the playoffs are high.

Two months have passed and the Senators and their fans have not forgotten what happened. Was it intentional? Was it an accident? The answer will depend on what city you’re from and your opinion of Matt Cooke.

The Senators host the Penguins Monday night and the fans that will pack ScotiaBank Place are eager to give Cooke an earful, while hoping their players will seek retribution for injuring their young star.

From the Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan:

Karlsson was the Senators scoring leader and sparking debates as to whether he was the best player in the NHL at the time of his injury. And if he had been the victim of anybody else, the whole thing could have easily been put off as an accident.

But despite his pleas of innocence afterwards, Cooke has twice been suspended for hits to the head, and he did end the career of Boston Bruins centre (and Orleans native) Marc Savard. He has said he's changed his ways, but not everybody is convinced. In fact, most still see him as one of the sneakiest and dirtiest players in the league -- and some saw the Karlsson incident as just another example.

At the same time, he's only settled scores like a man 20 times in his 14-year career, according to hockeyfights.com, and never has he dropped the gloves with a Senator. Chris Neil tried to square off with him later in that Feb. 13 game, but the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder wanted no part of that.

(Good to see Brennan didn’t promote a Senators player to take a two-hander to Cooke’s ankle, like he did in 2008 to Sidney Crosby.)

The Penguins have nothing to play for. They’ve already wrapped up the No. 1 seed and home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Senators, however, sit at 52 points and if they beat the Penguins and Buffalo downs Winnipeg in regulation, they will clinch a playoff spot.

"We're here to play a game and that's it," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean.

Speaking to the media after their morning skate, Cooke deflected any focus on him and potential retribution coming his way and said he and the Penguins were looking to catch the Chicago Blackhawks for the Presidents' Trophy and work on their game ahead of next week's first round. He also reiterated that the Karlsson incident wasn't intentional.

"What happened between me and Erik is a complete, freak accident," said Cooke. "I've said it before, I feel bad. I'm glad he's close to recovery and coming back."

A Senators fan group, the Red Scarf Union, has set up a “Matt Cooke Hate Fest” event for Monday night. "Wanted" posters have even been created. Boos will rain down upon Cooke every time he's on the ice and touches the puck. He'll probably end up having to fight someone on the Senators and things will then be "over".

That is, until we hear the results of Melnyk's "investigation", of course.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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