Takin' a T/O with BT: Don Cherry—When Does Something You Love Become Ordinary?
I've grown up watching hockey. Granted I was never in a financial position to play at any consistently organized level, but in Southwestern Ontario, your entire school year (September through June) is hockey season, spiced ever-so-slightly with some baseball.
During the school year, I was fortunate enough that both my parents worked nine-to-five jobs, which ended up meaning two things:
1) Family dinners each and every night that didn't come from a drive-thru window, pizza box, or microwave.
2) Hockey each and every night with my dad.
Now ,it was a given that both of us were Leafs' fans. Dad remembered (and still does) the last Leafs' Stanley Cup in 1967, and carries a soft-spot for all of the old-time legends. His passion, along with our proximity to Toronto, fed my Blue-and-White passion.
While the time spent with my dad was great during the weeknights, I remember something else as well—the announcers.
I remember how, during the week, I'd laugh as Joe Bowen would introduce the "tenders of the tickled twine" or Paul Hendrik would start the game off with a rhyming rendition of a recap of the Leafs' last game.
Saturday nights were a little different though. We'd pop some popcorn and head downstairs as the Hockey Night in Canada theme song's first few notes floated into the room. As we sat through the first period, I'd hear my dad talk about Bob Cole and how he didn't like him, and Kerry Fraser and how he didn't like the Leafs.
But it was all in preparation for the first intermission—and everyone knows why.
As it was with Hockey Night in Canada, I immediately fell in love with the Coach's Corner theme song. If I had to pick a favorite, even to this day it'd that song.
Along with that, Cherry's giving nature (namely, Rose Cherry's Home for Kids) and his dog Blue easily caught my attention and had me enjoying the segment before it even began.
Once I got a little older, I really started to understand what Cherry was talking about, but it was his delivery that really got me. When Cherry would go off and start talking about being gritty and playing the game like a "good Canadian boy" I'd listen intently.
I may not have ever played the game anywhere close to a "high level", but I still seemed to take Cherry's advice to heart. Instead of taking Cherry's advice on the ice, I found it transferring over to life, and I started living like a "good Canadian boy"—nose to the grindstone, a hard-working attitude, and striving to put your best foot forward.
It may sound lame, but that was some of the best advice anyone had every given me.
As time wore on, Cherry became even more ingrained in my mind as a defining voice for Canadian hockey. It was because of him I learned to appreciate the guys that never get the air time for what they do. Because of him I'd attach myself to guys like John Pohl, Manny Malhotra, and Sephane Yelle.
In 2004, I was irate with the seven-second tape delay. I had listened to "Grapes" for so long that I couldn't believe that he'd be censored. After all, he was speaking the truth—wasn't he? Only French guys and Europeans wore visors right?
Following that escapade, the NHL lockout happened—and with it, a full season without Don Cherry. Needless to say, the separation didn't help.
When hockey returned I still watched—nothing could quell my passion for the frozen game or the Leafs—but I started to find myself less concerned with all of the excess.
I'd still watch pregame shows and the intermission shows, but that wasn't what it was about anymore. Whether it had something to do with an increased sense of maturity (I guess that's what you call it?) or the over-saturation of the studio work during the lockout, I'd tune out until the action started out again.
Cherry still offered his sage information—keep your head up, don't leave it all on the shoulders of your goalie, work hard and your breaks will come—but I started to pay less attention, preferring to hit up the fridge or make a few calls during the intermission rather than follow Don's tirades.
This past Saturday, it came to a head.
As often happens when a role player hits it big, Cherry keyed on John Mitchell's success, saying that "he sat in the box when he took that penalty, though 'I want to make a difference', and then he did it! That's what you do, kids!"
Granted I love John Mitchell, and since I had been watching him since preseason I was ecstatic when Cherry mentioned him a week prior to his big game (drawing attention to Mitchell doing "the little things" right), but it just wasn't the same anymore.
All of the sudden, the fact that Mitchell had sat in the AHL for 205 games was a big deal. Granted it is a long time, but it seemed like the Leafs had done a terrible job bringing Mitchell along and that they were just ignoring the fact he was tearing it up.
In fact, Mitchell only had 17 points in his first 53 AHL games. In 2006-07 Mitchell's production was a bit better, but he still struggled in his own zone with a minus-10 rating. Mitchell didn't really rise to the top until last season, when he broke out with 20 goals and 51 points for the Marlies.
Cherry has always been protective of young kids—in fact, he recommends kids who aren't guaranteed to be taken in the first two rounds of the draft to stay home to avoid disappointment, which I think is a very good idea. And he hasn't minced words when it's come to pointing fingers at teams for ruining their young players.
But here he was, apparently offended that Mitchell had taken so long to get to the NHL—or at least it seemed that way.
So Don, I have to do something I've never done before...disagree with you.
The Leafs took the right path with Mitchell, and it's showing now. They kept the kid hungry, letting him fully adjust to playing in the AHL before bumping him up another league.
Is 205 AHL games a long time? Sure it is, but it's not a slight to Mitchell, and it's also not the longest amount of time spent in the AHL. Each player is different—Luke Schenn can play in the NHL now because he's a different player than John Mitchell, who's a different player than someone who'd spend 300 or 400 games in the AHL before making an impact in the NHL.
To be honest, for possibly the first time ever, I think your reaction was a little much—a little too over the top. You could've toned it down a bit.
That, and every player he featured doing something "rough and tough" on Saturday night, Cherry made sure the public heard him say "See? No visor."
So what does this mean? A few years ago, I would've loved the yelling, endorsed the endorsement, and hung on every word. Saturday? Not so much.
What's wrong with me?
Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Maybe I wasn't as big into it because this was already something I knew, and John Mitchell was kind of an old subject. Maybe it's just that I've outgrown what I used to live and die with as a child.
But here's the thing—I don't want to outgrow Coaches Corner. And if I'm going to, then I don't want it to be like this.
I want it to be new, fresh, and dynamic. I don't want it to be ordinary.
But I couldn't help it Saturday night—and now, I feel helpless.
What do you do when your idols fall to the status of mortal men?
You pray they climb to the top once again.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. You can get in contact with Bryan through his Profile, and you can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
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