Cooke in Flames' kitchen

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:16 PM ET


 VANCOUVER -- He's replaced Todd Bertuzzi on the top line. Now will Matt Cooke replace him as Public Enemy No. 1 in the Stampede City?

 Even before his attack on Steve Moore, Bertuzzi was no favourite of Flames fans. With him gone, Calgary will need someone else to dislike.

 Cooke has proven more than capable of taking that role.

 "If they're talking about me, then I'm doing my job," said the Canucks forward. "It's not new to me, I've been in that position for a while and gone through four playoff series where it's happened.

 "You deal with opposing fans and, if I'm weak enough to allow that to creep into my head, then I'm not doing my job."

 Listed as 5-ft., 11-in., 205-lb., Cooke is exactly the player you love or hate, depending on what side of the fence you're sitting.

 He's tenacious. Gritty. Willing to stick his nose anywhere. Still, he doesn't see himself as a pest.

 "That's probably a misrepresentation of me," he said. "I've never went out trying to stick guys. I play hard and hit guys with the same intensity, no matter who they are and that's what got me the name I have."

 That moxie is also why Cooke's been placed on a line with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison. The Canucks tried to put Martin Rucinsky in that role after he was acquired from the New York Rangers but the plan fizzled.

 Enter Cooke, maybe with less skill but more willing to do the dirty work.

 "I'm still trying to hit but now when I have the puck, I'm inclined to keep it or get it to Markus or get it to Mo rather than firing it around and burying my head to initiate a forecheck," he said. "I find because I'm not forechecking all the time, we have more possession. When I do forecheck, I have another step or more jump."

 On the surface, it may seem a strange marriage. On the other wing is Naslund, the silky smooth skater with a potent shot that helped him to a 35-goal, 84-point season. Up the middle is Morrison, with 22 goals and 60 points.

 Cooke, with 11 goals and 23 points in 53 games, admits he felt out of place at first.

 "There were some nerves surrounding it and obviously I wanted to do well to stay there and all the things that would go along with getting that opportunity," he said.

 Cooke's calmed those nerves with a tried- and-true formula.

 "At first, I was almost concerned I wasn't going to be in front of the net enough and physically it wasn't possible for me to be there as much as they want me to," he said.

 "But the coaching staff believes in my instincts and knows that if there's an opportunity for me to be there, I'll be there."


Videos

Photos