PITTSBURGH – Penguins forward Matt Cooke apologized for an illegal hit that earned him the stiffest suspension of his NHL career, saying he needs to "change" the way he plays.
Cooke told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Post-Gazette late Monday in Detroit that he "made a mistake" when he landed an elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
"I realize and understand, more so now than ever, that I need to change," Cooke told the newspapers. "That's what I wanted my message to be."
The oft-penalized left wing was suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which means he'll sit a minimum of 14 games.
"I made a mistake. I'm the one that's accountable for that. I take full responsibility for it," Cooke told reporters. "I'm sorry to my teammates, my management, my coaching staff and my organization. It's something that, moving forward, I'll make different."
Cooke is the fourth player suspended for the remainder of a season, joining former Islanders forward Chris Simon, former Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi and former Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley. Cooke will end up forfeiting $219,512.20 in salary during the suspension.
The suspension is the fifth of his career and fourth since joining the Penguins in 2008. He was also suspended four games last month for hitting the Blue Jackets' Fedor Tyutin from behind.
"They aren't the same. They're different plays and ... I want to change," Cooke said. "In the game against the Rangers, I had a chance to hit (Brian) Boyle in the middle of the ice and I didn't. I had a chance to hit (Bryan) McCabe, and he turned, so I didn't hit him. It's a learning process. It doesn't just stop with being suspended.
"It also doesn't just stop with words," he said. "My actions will prove it."
Penguins general manager Ray Shero supported the penalty the NHL gave Cooke, saying in a statement that the suspension was warranted because "head shots have no place in hockey."
NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell said the length of the suspension was determined in part because Cooke was a "repeat offender" and because he "unnecessarily targeted the head of an opponent who was in an unsuspecting and vulnerable position."
"This isn't the first time this season that we have had to address dangerous behavior on the ice by Mr. Cooke," Campbell said, "and his conduct requires an appropriately harsh response."
Cooke said that he hopes to win back the support of Penguins management and his fellow players, though he acknowledged that won't be accomplished merely with an apology.
"I'm fortunate that Ryan McDonagh wasn't hurt. I don't want to hurt anybody. That's not my intention. I know that I can be better," Cooke told the Pittsburgh newspapers. "As I just said, my actions will speak louder than words. That's what matters most."