The Life and Times of Don Cherry: Big Deal or Big Mouth?

WoooooSenior Writer IMay 14, 2008

Don Cherry has long been one of the most controversial figures in professional hockey. Most Americans can't stand him, most Canadians love him, others seem to just tolerate him by default.

I will admit that besides hearing his comments about European players being sub-par in comparison to Canadian players based solely on the fact that "most of the guys that wear them [visors] are European and French guys," and bashing Sidney Crosby on numerous occasions, I never really knew much about the man they call "Grapes."

So, I decided to do some research on how this Santa Claus look-alike got to be one of the most recognizable faces in the sport of hockey.

I will say that I have never been, nor will ever be, a Don Cherry fan. But, through the course of my research, I have come to achieve a slightly higher level of respect for Cherry, not as an analyst, but at least as a human being.

Donald Stewart Cherry was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1934. Both of his grandfathers, and his father served in various branches of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Cherry had a particular talent on the ice that would lead him to stray from the ways of his ancestors, and engage in battles on a frozen surface of water rather than in the muddy swamps of the battlefield that his grandfather called home during World War I.

Cherry played junior hockey with the Barrie Flyers and the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey Association. In 1953, Cherry won the Memorial Cup as a defenseman with Barrie. The following year Cherry dropped out of high school and signed a minor league contract with the AHL's Hershey Bears.

Cherry had a long career playing in the AHL, and played his lone NHL game for the Boston Bruins during the 1955 playoffs. According to Cherry, an off-season baseball injury prevented him from ever sustaining a spot on an NHL roster. In other words, he just couldn't cut it.

Cherry retired from hockey in 1970, and pursued a career as a Cadillac salesman and a construction worker before finally becoming the head coach of the AHL's Rochester Americans during the 1971-72 season.

Cherry remained with Rochester for three seasons, before landing a deal as the head coach of the Boston Bruins. Cherry arrived just in time to see the departure of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

Cherry quickly became known as a fiery coach who encouraged physical play among his players. This system worked, as the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in consecutive seasons, only to lose to the Habs both times.

Cherry won the Jack Adams award as the league's best coach during the 1976 season.

Three years later, Cherry was fired by the B's as a result of a crucial "coaching mistake." The Bruins were ahead by a goal during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, the Bruins were penalized for too many men on the ice. Guy Lafleur scored the tying goal on the ensuing power play, and the game winner in overtime. The Habs went on to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup, while Cherry went on to become the manager of the Colorado Rockies the following year.

Cherry ended his coaching career on a positive note, as the Rockies defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0, in what would be their last game as a franchise.

After the Rockies failed to make the playoffs following the 1979-80 season, Cherry was hired as a studio analyst for CBC's playoff coverage. CBC hired him full-time the following season as a color commentator, but his tendency to open cheer for one team on the air quickly removed him from the booth.

CBC created Coach's Corner the following season, a segment which aired during the first intermission of Hockey Night in Canada and featured the flamboyant Cherry. Coach's Corner offered Cherry the opportunity to basically say whatever he wanted to say, about anything he wanted to talk about. Whether it was politics, his favorite players, his distaste for European players, his disagreement with certain NHL rules, or his love of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, Cherry quickly became Canada's most recognizable loud mouth.

Since early May of this year, Cherry has been employed by ESPN, working alongside Barry Melrose as a hockey analyst. Cherry has volunteered to donate all of his earnings from ESPN to the Humane Society.

Cherry owns his own chain of sports bars in Canada, is the founder of a home for children with cancer, was named one of Canada's top ten "great Canadians", is an honorary member of the Police Association of Ontario, and was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service for his "longstanding and unswerving support of Canadians in uniform" in February of this year.

So there you have it. Love him or hate him, Don Cherry is undoubtedly one of the most influential members of the Canadian (and possibly soon American) media. He has been around the game his entire life, and whether or not he ever has anything legitimate to say, you can count on one thing; he will always have something to say.

In conclusion, I guess you can say that Cherry's big mouth is indeed a big deal.