Don Cherry: Ready To "Puck Off?"

TOsports.caCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

Don Cherry is a Canadian icon.

He is the reason to stay tuned during the first intermission of a hockey game. He is controversial, opinionated, entertaining, and he just might be ready to pack it in.

Cherry recently turned 75 and is remembered by some for his play in the AHL as a tough defenseman for the Rochester Americans, Springfield Indians, Tulsa Oilers, and Hershey Bears.

Cherry would play one game in the NHL for the Boston Bruins, a team he would later coach, with great success, mentoring the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheevers, Brad Park, etc.

Cherry coached the Colorado Rockies, with little success, but he did bring tons of piss, vinegar, and headlines.

For all that, Cherry was certainly entertaining, which would later earn him a shot on Hockey Night in Canada.

After his last game in Colorado, Cherry’s thoughts undoubtedly turned to how he could remain in the game, as he was unwanted as a coach and badly in need of work.

In 1980, the CBC hired Cherry as an analyst for the playoffs. He did well alongside Dave Hodge, but he was outspoken and known to root for certain teams, notably the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.

This became an issue to some and he was let go.

This didn’t sit well with everyone; Cherry was so popular that the CBC found another assignment for him: Coach’s Corner was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, if you need an introduction to Coach’s Corner, you have been living on another planet.

Cherry, over the years, has walked the walk and definitely talked the talk during this segment.

He has touched on controversial political issues, called out anyone and everyone in hockey, shows his patriotism, wears his heart on his sleeve, and has captured the biggest hockey audience in the history of broadcasters.

He is Canada’s voice of hockey and, as he says, “a beauty.”

It’s hard to think of Hockey Night in Canada without Don Cherry as a contributor.

We may not always agree with what Cherry says, or the way he says it, but Canadians continually tune in en masse just to hear what Cherry will say, which leads me to my fear.

What would Hockey Night in Canada be without Don Cherry?

Who could possibly fill his shoes?

Well, I have given the matter a ton of thought.

When and if Cherry retires or is asked to leave, his replacement, if there is one, will have to be ready to endure huge criticism. Cherry would leave behind massive shoes to fill, and there are not too many people who could even dream of replacing him.

In fact, it’s damn near impossible.

Is there a candidate?

Well, not really, but I did do some thinking and I came up with one name that, on the surface, might just work.

Who could possibly fill the void left by Don Cherry?

The reality is, you cannot replace Don Cherry, but you can find someone to proudly carry on his tradition and idealism, and his name is Denis Leary.

Leary is a well-known comedian, actor, and huge hockey fan.

Leary, much like Cherry, is a rabid Boston Bruins fan; he loves to lace up the skates, is not afraid to voice an opinion, and he has been controversial at times.

He is used to the spotlight, loves attention, has been spotted at numerous awards shows and hockey charity events, and has a relationship with numerous players.

Does he have Cherry’s knowledge?


Does he have Cherry’s stories?


Is he Canadian?


Could he capture the nation and get them to watch Coach’s Corner?

Probably not.

What Leary would do is create a new following, one that has the ability to attract the average Joe Hockey Fan, a guy who wouldn’t take hockey too seriously, a guy who could be excused for not knowing the game inside and out yet somehow making up for it with his humor and quick wit.

Leary is an American, and he is certain to have a unique perspective on the game, perhaps one that would appeal to Americans and novice fans, something the NHL needs dearly.

Am I delusional?

Probably, but, if there is anyone out there who could take the reins and run with Coach’s Corner, it is the likes of Leary.

No question he would be entertaining, unique, and he has the star power—most importantly, he is a fan and a student of the game.

For a league that is struggling to attract fans from otherwise non-hockey markets, a guy like Leary could attract these “simple folk,” leading to bigger ratings and more saturation. What’s not to like about that?

God forbid that Cherry is asked to leave or has the desire to retire. It would kill me as a hockey fan and it would diminish Canadian culture.

After all, Cherry did rank seventh overall in the CBC’s “Greatest Canadian” contest.

Obviously, he is important to us all.

His departure would be a sad day, an end of an era, but hockey would live on and in Cherry’s absence the NHL would need to consider a candidate to continue what Cherry started. Hockey needs the entertainment factor that is Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner.

I hope they take Donald S. Cherry out of the arena in a box. Deep down inside, I think Cherry would like it that way, too!