Is it time to let Don Cherry go?

Ian FroeseCorrespondent IJune 28, 2008

Known for his extravagant suits, unwavering patriotism and above all as a Canadian cultural icon, Don ‘Grapes’ Cherry has worked for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for 28 years. But has he finally lost his touch for the game?

Before working in front of the camera, Cherry had the same dream as every other Canadian boy, to play in the NHL. His pursuit led him to playing junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey Association. From there he began his eventual 16-year playing career in professional hockey, spent largely in the American Hockey League.

Afterwards in 1972, he began a career in coaching, which would last seven years. He most memorably led the NHL’s Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final.

Today, the 74-year old’s intermission segment Coach’s Corner remains a popular staple of HNIC broadcasts, while always considered controversial, the word “boring” has never been used in the same sentence as Don Cherry, until now. Case in point, during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Penguins and the Red Wings, Cherry declared that Pens veteran, Gary Roberts was the best player in the game. In it, Roberts had an assist and played less than nine minutes. On the other hand, teammate and NHL superstar Sidney Crosby scored 2 goals in his team’s 3-2 win. This had a portion of viewers up in arms. As a matter of fact, after the game on ESPN, he continued on his tangent, until former hockey analyst Barry Melrose approached Cherry on Crosby’s play. “Oh,” Cherry answered. “I forgot. Yeah, he played a great game.”

Now we all know that Cherry has always heralded the play of hard-nosed Canadians that go hard into the corners and are willing to do whatever it takes for the team. But it’s starting to get ridiculous, Crosby was easily the star of that game, not Gary Roberts and his veteran leadership. (who didn’t even play in Game 1) And his rambling of Roberts would eventually continue until the Cup was awarded to the Red Wings. In defence, Cherry and Crosby have a storied history together. As a junior, Crosby was lambasted by Cherry for being a hot dog when he scored a goal by putting the puck on his stick, lacrosse-stick.

But that’s not the only thing that has bothered a growing minority of viewers, it’s the gospel that he has been preaching for years. Such as claiming for years that European players are not tough enough. Well, tell that to the Detroit Red Wings, the first team to win it all with an European captain, Nicklas Lidstrom. And besides Canadian goaltender Chris Osgood, the Red Wings were led by a scattering of Europeans such as Lidstrom, playoff MVP Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen. Cherry though, hasn’t apologized for his comments since his partner on Coach’s Corner, Ron Maclean has become too much of Don’s cheerleader. In fact when ESPN tried to question Cherry on Lidstrom’s historic first, instead of conceding defeat, he wondered why it took the Europeans this long for it to happen!

Basically, Don Cherry is out of tune and while he’s advancing in age, he is still a great commentator that says it as he sees it. Which is why HNIC shouldn’t give him the pink slip, since he is still one of the game’s finest. However he can’t be letting his own personal bias get in the way of analyzing the game. I get it, he’s not a Crosby fan, but he has to give credit where credit is due. And he’s got these steadfast rules that Canadians are the toughest, that Europeans wander at playoff time, that most of the guys that wear visors in the league “are European and French guys,” among others. That said, he has to branch out and give praise when it’s needed. Furthermore in the same way that he blatantly puts out his chest whenever he makes a correct prediction, he has to admit when he’s wrong.

At the same time though, Don Cherry has that distinct personality that has made him an icon in the first place. He must keep this and he can still be a fan of those tough players, but in the same way that the sport has evolved, so must Don Cherry.