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Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke skates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke skates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Penguins’ Matt Cooke makes the most of NHL lockout Add to ...

Matt Cooke made the best of what should have been the NHL’s opening night.

Instead of getting ready for Pittsburgh’s curtain raiser against the New York Islanders, the locked out Penguins forward spent Thursday coaching his daughter’s soccer team.

“I’ve been able to be involved in my kids’ sports more than I have in the past. I think that means a lot to them and it means a lot to me to be able to enjoy that,” Cooke said Saturday after taking part in an NHLPA event in Stirling-Rawdon, Ont. “I’ve tried not to think about what could have been or what should have been and instead have enjoyed the moments I’m having with my family.”

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Cooke grew up playing hockey in Stirling-Rawdon, a town some 20 kilometres north of Belleville, and was on the ice for three hours with youngsters at the rink where he learned the game.

The town won the Kraft Hockeyville competition and the right to host NHL pre-season game, but the work stoppage meant those plans were cancelled.

“I was on the ice with kids that were five, six, seven years old and I just think back to what that would have meant to me at that age and that’s a pretty cool thing,” Cooke said. “Most people just realize and recognize that it’s a lot bigger than one player and there’s not much we can control. ‘Are we going to have hockey this year?’ — that’s their biggest concern. They’re starving for hockey. I think every small town in Canada probably has the same mentality.”

Kraft Hockeyville also awards money for arena upgrades and the NHL held an event in Stirling-Rawdon last month despite the lockout.

Cooke was joined at Saturday’s NHLPA event by fellow players Brad Richardson, Derek Smith, Jamal Mayers, Kurtis Foster, James Reimer, Nick Foligno and Josh Bailey.

Cooke, who has been skating with teammates to stay in shape, is taking a wait-and-see approach as the owners and players continue talks aimed at ending the lockout.

A number of NHLers have found jobs overseas in the interim, but Cooke isn’t ready to take that option.

“There’s always opportunities and some have arisen since the lockout but I think right now my fear is to go over and play 25 games and then have to come back and play a 75-game schedule, then I’m already at 100 games before playoffs,” the feisty left-winger said. “Right now I’m good with where we’re at. We have a good competitive ice time that’s keeping us sharp and as long as that continues and the optimism of getting a deal is fairly high then I have no intentions of going over to Europe. But I haven’t completely closed the door either.”

Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan made comments last week that he would prefer to see NHL players remain in North America to be part of the solution to the lockout.

Although Cooke respects Ryan’s opinion, he says each player has the right to make their own decision.

“Each guy is in an individual situation and some are completely different than others. Some guys haven’t played in the league that long so they want to play somewhere else. Some guys have played in the league a real long time and they feel like they need to go somewhere to stay sharp.

“There’s just so many scenarios that each individual guy has to deal with so I don’t judge either way.”

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