Cook still part of Wings family

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock remarked on how much he misses his friend Earl Cook (pictured) who...

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock remarked on how much he misses his friend Earl Cook (pictured) who died of cancer in September. Cook’s family was in Detroit Saturday for the Jets-Red Wings game.

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:41 AM ET

DETROIT - It was evident on Saturday morning that Earl Cook is still a big part of the Detroit Red Wings family.

In fact, the first question for Wings head coach Mike Babcock on Saturday morning — from a Detroit media member, no less — was about Cook, a Winnipegger who died in September at age 23 after a long and valiant battle with cancer.

“Obviously Earl’s a huge Winnipeg fan and a big Detroit fan,” Babcock said. “He would’ve been cheering for us (Saturday) night, but it would have been hard for him. He would’ve been cheering for them the rest of the year.

“Earl became a good friend of the Red Wings and a good friend of mine. It was tough losing him, and yet he’s watching over us and looking after us. It should be a lot of fun here for his family here tonight, and I know he’ll be smiling.”

A few feet away in the Detroit dressing room was Cook’s foster mom, Debbie Hopkins, who made the emotional trip to Michigan with her son Darby to watch the Wings play the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday and the Jets on Saturday.

“It’s sort of bittersweet, because we’re here without Earl, but when the NHL came back and the Jets were going to be playing Detroit, Earl was very disappointed that they weren’t going to be playing in Winnipeg,” Hopkins said.

“Earl said, ‘That’s OK, mom. We’ll just go to Detroit like we always do.’ So we came and saw Phoenix, the old Winnipeg team, and now we came to see the new Atlanta team.”

Cook said during an interview with the Sun in March 2010 that he battled cancer so hard because Babcock gave him the inspiration to do so.

Unfortunately, he lost his battle before he could see the Jets and Wings collide.

The friendship between Cook and Babcock formed in July 2008 when Cook had his cancerous left hip and leg amputated in Toronto.

TSN’s Darren Dreger paid a visit to Cook’s hospital room, and 15 minutes later the young man was chatting on the phone with Babcock after Dreger asked him who his favourite coach was.

Hopkins and Cook made a couple dozen trips to Detroit after that. Earl had the run of the Wings dressing room and became close with several players.

“He had total access,” Hopkins said. “There are people who have told us Earl had more access than anybody in this place. He would be here until all the guys were gone. He even got a massage one time from the massage therapist after they were all gone.”

The impact Cook had on the team was evident Saturday in the way Babcock, staff and players hugged Hopkins when they saw her.

Wings GM Ken Holland even invited Debbie and Darby to have lunch with the team on Friday.

Cook won’t be forgotten in Motown anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy. I’ve shed a few tears,” Hopkins said.

“Darby was a little teary when he came in here the other night. It’s kind of different being here without him.”


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