Any time anyone, especially a Pens fan, defends Matt Cooke in reference to Marc Savard, the reaction is the same:
"You're a homer. Cooke is a low-life, cheap shot artist."
"No, Cooke shouldn't even be in the NHL. For as long as Savard is out, so should Cooke."
Believe me, we've heard you, Bruins fans. Loud and clear and on numerous occasions.
I really want to emphasize that we, Pens fans, feel for Savard and the entire situation. If we could go back in time and affect the neurons in Cooke's brain to direct him away from Savard's head, we'd jump at the opportunity. We hate that this had to happen and not because of the drama that has arisen, but because, despite what other fan bases think, we're good people and we love hockey, not the injuries. And trust us when we say we know what you're going through which is why we are so sympathetic to the situation. I'd even argue that we're in a worse situation, possibly losing the greatest player in the NHL. But in the end, we wouldn't wish this on anyone.
Bruins fans wasted no time letting their hatred fly toward Cooke following today's news regarding Savard's inability to take part in the 2011-2012 season. The news is terrible, but the constant blame on Cooke is borderline childish at this point. I understand Bruins fans want answers and they need someone to blame when a talented player such as Savard has to abruptly stop his hockey career, but Cooke isn't the only reason why Savard can't play this season.
I won't sit here and say Cooke should be free of blame because he isn't. Although I'm very curious as to why Matt Hunwick doesn't get any attention. After all, doctors deemed Savard healthy enough to clear him to play following Cooke's hit. It was Hunwick's hit that eventually did him in.
Here's where it gets interesting. Despite the fact Hunwick's hit on Savard was the most recent one that has led to the problems we see today, everything goes back to Cooke. Both hitters were trying to get the puck but unfortunately connected with Savard's head.
Is that entirely fair? I don't think so, but hey, I'm the "homer Pens fan."
In this article, Savard addresses Hunwick's hit:
"I do remember the (Hunwick) hit," Savard said. "When I got hit, I had a quick blackout and lost any energy I had at that point in the game. I felt weak. It wasn't Matt's fault, though. I was skating fast, for once, and he finished his check. He contacted me twice since then and expressed to me how terrible he felt, but it wasn't a bad hit at all.
"The hit against Pittsburgh (Engelland) might have added to it, though."
And then we have Savard's comments on Cooke's hit:
"Well, I have obviously viewed it a couple of times and I think it was a play that didn't need to happen, obviously," said Savard Saturday morning at TD Garden. "To me it wasn't a shoulder and I watched the [Mike] Richards on [David] Booth hit. I think that was a shoulder. I think mine was more of an elbow, so I think there was an attempt to injure there. I was, obviously, very unhappy with what happened and I think it could have been avoided very easily."
"Yeah, he has tried and he has tried to get my phone number and stuff like that," said Savard. "But from what happened I really don't, right at the moment, have any interest in talking to him and that's just how I feel. Maybe down the road, but right now, I am not feeling any better so I would rather just not talk to him."
So how much of a difference does Savard's reaction to both hits make? A huge one and it's probably the reason why there is animosity toward Cooke and not so much toward Hunwick from the fans. That shouldn't take away from any damage done from Hunwick's hit. It still happened and it is still a hit that has led Savard to miss this season.
Again, Bruins fans want an answer. They want to know "why?" and the only fact they can grasp is that Cooke, not Hunwick, started Savard in a downward spiral. In my opinion, it also comes down to the doctors and unfortunate circumstance.
I don't know Savard's case, I don't know what was up with his brain after Cooke's hit and I don't know if he was totally ready to return to the ice when he did. What I do know is a lot of time passed between Cooke's hit and when Savard was shut down for the rest of the season and, unfortunately, we won't know half of that information. The doctors who worked on him might not even know. Either way, he was cleared for contact and it could have been too soon for him to be cleared. Or, it simply could have been one too many hits to the head coming from Cooke, Engelland, Hunwick and countless other hits hockey players absorb in the course of their careers.
Pens fans are too familiar with the frustration toward doctors. Crosby was stunningly cleared to play against Tampa Bay on Jan. 5, just days after sustaining what looked like a brutal hit to the head, courtesy of David Steckel. In the Tampa game, Crosby sustained a second head injury from Victor Hedman and that was the last time we saw him in a Pens jersey. Blame began at Steckel and Hedman, but it slowly trickled away from the offending hitters to the doctors in charge of Crosby's recovery. To this day, we don't know if he was misdiagnosed or if he received too many hits to the head in a short amount of time. Or both.
Crosby's and Savard's situations are pretty similar and in the end, we still don't know what to do because we can't even get the hang of these concussions.
So many factors come into play when it comes to concussions nowadays and to solely single out one as the REASON why a player is unable to play, is ridiculous. The factors include the hitter's actions, the player getting hit and his awareness of what was happening, the doctor's diagnosis, the speed at which the player returns to exercise and further accidents that may happen upon the player's return to the ice. Each factor (and I didn't even list all of them) plays a huge role in a player's recovery from a concussion; why are Bruins fans so dead set on stopping at Cooke when a series of actions following the hit may have had just as much of an impact on his career?
Overall, Cooke is only a piece of the mysterious jigsaw puzzle and the other counterparts require just as much scrutiny. There is more to Savard's concussion problems than a game of blame Matt Cooke.