An Old Soul at Heart
| Going on nine seasons in a Canucks uniform, what you see is what you get from Matt Cooke, the 29-year old left winger from Belleville, Ontario.
While he’s a strong, aggressive presence on the ice, Cooke is better known for his kindness away from the rink. Despite these two very opposite approaches, one theme remains constant: his passion that he brings to the game of hockey on a nightly basis transcends throughout all areas of his life.
Alongside wife Michelle, Matt has spent his time fostering the growth of their children, expanding his knowledge of antiquing and giving back, through the charitable foundation they recently established, to Vancouver, the community they call home.
RAIBLE: What triggered the Cooke Family Foundation of Hope?
COOKE: Actually, the inspiration for the Foundation happened in 2004 but we waited until 2006 to start the project when our family members were okay with their story being out there. Michelle’s brother and his wife were going to have a baby and she was, what they consider ‘full term’ these days, 38 weeks. My wife and I got back from the World Hockey Championships to find out the devastating news that they had lost the baby. Michelle and her mother flew to Toronto that day. There, Michelle held on to Hope, her still-born niece.
RAIBLE: And out of that family tragedy has come this opportunity for you and Michelle to make a major difference in someone else’s life?
COOKE: Well, we’ve always been involved with many charities, even outside of the ones that the Canucks support. I’m the celebrity spokesperson for Juvenile Diabetes and I have emceed the Children’s Heart Network Dinner for the last three years. We’ve given a lot of our time but we felt we were capable of giving a lot more. The best part of it for Michelle and me is being hands-on, so we can ensure the donations are going to areas that need it the most.
RAIBLE: Matt, there are so many charitable organizations out there. Was there any concern about starting up the Family Foundation of Hope?
COOKE: There were no doubts, at all. We said right from the get-go that we were going to be involved 100-percent, so we never lost control. It is a family thing and we want to make it everlasting so we can pass it along to our kids and they can keep it going. We didn’t think that we would get off to such an amazing start and the support from this community been overwhelming.
RAIBLE: Now, you’ve had one major fund-raising effort, so far, haven’t you?
COOKE: That’s right, the Silver Lining Gala last September. We had 120 people attend, Colin James played two sets, which was awesome, and we were able to raise 195,000 dollars. The biggest thing for me was my teammates were there, past and present.
RAIBLE: The Cooke’s Corner suite at Vancouver Giants games is very much a part of the foundation, isn’t it?
COOKE: Very much so. We purchase the suite and provide the opportunity for 36 different groups, underprivileged kids, who might never get to see a hockey game. I try to be there as much as I can but Michelle should get all of the credit here. The suite is her idea, right down to how it’s decorated, with jerseys on the wall, and the 14 gift bags we give out at every game. She had a special Matt Cooke water bottle made, we have signed hockey cards, a Canucks team photo, even a chocolate bar with my picture on it. We have some incredible sponsors helping us out and we have a full suite for all 36 home games. If we had another suite, we’d fill that too.
RAIBLE: I understand that the passion you have for your community involvement is the same when it comes to antiques, particularly furniture. But I honestly don’t see you watching ‘Antique Road Show’ while some of your teammates are watching ‘Prison Break’ or ‘Seinfeld’ reruns.
COOKE: I’m sure if you asked my wife, she would tell you that I have a very old soul. I will admit, I have watched that show many times and it has a lot of neat stuff on it but my main interest in antiques runs to Eastern Canadiana furniture.
RAIBLE: Is it easy to come by these items?
COOKE: It was when I first started, about 10 years ago. You could go to an auction any day of the week in the summer and find some reasonable priced pieces that, with a little “T-L-C”, you could triple your money.
RAIBLE: This must require an ‘antique furniture scouting staff’, people who can find pieces for you?
COOKE: (laughing) I have my father-in-law, who is really the one who kick-started all of this. I went to my first auction with him and, even today, he’ll go to a lot of auctions around Belleville and check things out.
RAIBLE: Can you give us an example of the kind of antique furniture pieces you might bid on?
COOKE: Well, over the years I’ve probably bought three or four antique hockey games with the wooden player pieces that don’t even have a hockey stick attached and the “puck” was a steel marble. One of the oldest pieces I have is what they call a “fainting couch”. It’s from the early 1900’s, when women wore corsets. As their maids undid the corsets, very often they fainted, onto this [specifically designed] couch.
RAIBLE: It’s pretty obvious that this particular hobby, and your community involvement, offer you an escape from your responsibilities as a hockey player.
COOKE: For sure. When you’re a passionate person, you are always a passionate person, no matter what your interests are. Spending time with my family or finishing a piece of antique furniture, these are the things I enjoy away from the game.
When Matt Cooke is not on the ice agitating opponents, he can be found alongside his wife Michelle working to brighten the lives of those in need.
The Cooke Family Foundation of Hope is now entering its second year of bringing inspiration and empowerment to those who need it most. More than 20 local charities have benefited from the tireless efforts of Michelle and Matt, including SAGE House, Kids Up Front, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Zajac Foundation and many more.
“So many people in our community are faced with challenges. Our goal is to help give them the courage, means and inspiration to tackle obstacles they deal with on a regular basis.” – Michelle Cooke
For more information on the Cooke Family Foundation of Hope, please visit www.foundationofhope.ca