Odds are if one grew up in the Great White North, they lived by the motto, “True north strong and free.” In that case, watching Hockey Night In Canada on a cold winter evening was a rite of passage. Whether that viewer was watching legends like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Grapes’ favourite Russian, Pavel Bure strut their stuff. Maybe hoping their team could notch a win. When the first intermission rolled around, the viewer knew, and for the most part, anticipated what was to come next… Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.
Why Hockey Fans Attitudes Towards Don Cherry Need To Change
The concept of Coach’s Corner was first conceived in 1982. That’s when the talented Dave Hodge co-hosted the segment with the gentleman in the colourful suits. The opinionated Cherry has made a name for himself by basically saying whatever is on his mind. He said these things no matter the political, societal or psychological ramifications were.
With that attitude and Cherry’s storied background to fame, the former head coach of the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies (now the New Jersey Devils) has earned himself a spot on the Canadian Walk Of Fame with Ron MacLean. On top of that, Cherry placed seventh on a TV show called The Greatest Canadian.
Get this, not only did Cherry place seventh, he placed ahead of one of the greatest hockey players to ever live Wayne Gretzky. He also surpassed the lights of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was one of Canada’s most beloved Prime Ministers, and Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Although Cherry, who is also known as “Grapes”, doesn’t like to brag, acclaims like these further cement his status into Canadian culture. Nevermind proving that he’s more than just another hockey analyst on TV.
At least that was back then.
In the now
In recent times, when the Sportsnet and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation struck a new TV deal with the National Hockey League, the word from behind the curtains was that the NHL wanted a massive overhaul to the Hockey Night In Canada product. More importantly, the NHL wanted CBC to “put a muzzle” on Don Cherry.
When push came to shove, the network kept the star of Coach’s Corner, essentially sticking with him ever since that new and improved TV deal was inked in 2012. That’s even if NHL executives and CBC higher-ups feared that it was preventing HNIC’s overall product from evolving beyond the whole “this is the only place you can watch Coach’s Corner” sha-bang that it had been known for during that time.
The speculation on Don Cherry not returning to HNIC
Not too long ago, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons speculated that Cherry would not be back for the 2019-20 season since the CBC had not renewed his contract. When that article went out, many Hockey Night In Canada fans were pleased. A quick search of Twitter showed the younger generations pointing out every single wrong Cherry has/had done. Picking on his speech issues and the conservative values that Cherry has cherished throughout his 85-year-long-life.
Some said he was past his prime and getting too old for the job, which one could make a fair argument for. It could be argued that maybe it would be better for him to have his own radio show as he has had in the past. This would allow CBC to pass on the torch per se. From the other perspective, why mess with what’s been working for all these years?
Keeping Don Cherry “muzzled”
Yes, some nights it feels more like a Saturday Night Live skit of what Cherry was back in the ’80s and ’90s rather than an actual segment of Coach’s Corner. Despite this, viewers still tune in every Saturday night to see what Uncle Don is going to say next. Honestly, isn’t that the aura of watching and listening to Don Cherry anyways – to see what he is going to say next?
It might be somewhat important to mention, it’s hard to pinpoint whose opinion Canadians have valued more than Cherry’s over the years. Maybe the longtime (and now former) host of the Sportsnet radio show Prime Time Sports Bob McCown? Maybe a handful of columnists? Beyond that, whose opinions do Canadian sports fans want to hear? That’s why Cherry is still relevant to this day.
When Cherry announced he was coming back for another year, essentially debunking Simmons’ claim, #HockeyTwitter wasn’t overly ecstatic, furthering their claims of why he should be taken off the air.
While it’s okay not to like the news of Grapes coming back for another season. And subsequently possessing an opinion on the said topic. One must remember to at least look at the other side of the argument. An educated bystander may think that one would learn that from the spirited analytical debates being had on #HockeyTwitter. One could even say they’re pretty… wait for it… subjective. The numbers may not lie to one, but maybe to the other, they might.
Nevertheless, let’s get this eighteen wheeler back on the road.
What most of Cherry’s critics forget
What most of those people did not talk about were all the good things he has done, not only for the game but for the country of Canada in general. Not forgetting to mention, what his “bunch of jerks” comments did for the Carolina Hurricanes marketing department.
Cherry has done much for many charitable causes. He always tries to lend his had to any good cause. He does this not to save face for when he screws up, but ’cause it’s the right thing to do. People are always quick to respond in the heat of the moment when he says something he shouldn’t have. These same people forget the little things he does that contribute to the greater good. One could argue without Cherry using his platform for these causes, these charities may have not made as much money or achieved as much success.
Cherry and the troops
The colourful voice of Coach’s Corner is also a strong advocate for the country of Canada. This can be to the pleasure of most and the displeasure of some. Yes, Cherry’s critics have been quick to point out how his nationalistic pride can sometimes be viewed as a bad thing. Most pointing to his views on foreign goaltenders taking “Canadian boys” spots in the Canadian Hockey League as being one of the “bad takes”.
What they sometimes pass up on is how Cherry has advocated for the Canadian Armed Forces. He often reminds viewers to buy a poppy for Remembrance Day to support the troops. He also advises viewers to thank them for their sacrifices and their service. Peter Worthington, the co-founder of the Toronto Sun, wrote in a blog on the HuffPost, “We all have opinions, but when it comes to standing up for his country, and for our soldiers, it’s unlikely Don Cherry has an equal.”
Nobody is perfect
Fans may be divided into their thoughts and opinions on Cherry. However, one must respect his support for the troops and his country. That alone should reason to give him a tip of the cap.
In the end, everyone knows Cherry has his flaws. Sometimes he gets lost in the “Canadian Way” too much for his own good. Not that the “Canadian Way” doesn’t have its merits. Let’s be real, sometimes it can be a little too much. Yes, sometimes he can say something sexist or insensitive. The next week he’ll come out and apologize and admit he was wrong. That takes a lot of guts to do on national TV. It’s even harder for someone with a big ego. That said, Cherry may not be evolving with the times as much as some of us are, but at least he’s staying genuine while attempting to do so.
Yes, to reiterate, sometimes he can sound like that distant uncle at the family reunion that always has something colourful to say. A lot of what Cherry says is based on his own upbringing and values he was taught as a child.
The last word
Looking sharp was always something that his father pressed upon him and that has been ironed into his many teachings today. Some can’t afford it and because of that, there are the critics that point out his little segments where he shows the teams coming in “looking sharp” in their three-piece tailored suits. The argument lapses into how that can make the less wealthy of us feel excluded. That said, for as many people that hate it, there are probably an equal amount that love it.
For the holier than thou critics that like to point out every one of Cherry’s misdeeds, they’re no better or worse than Cherry himself. In fact, really nobody is better the person sitting next to them. Some may argue that people use Cherry as a scapegoat. They, themselves, have the same faults and are afraid to admit it. They mask that thought by criticizing a person that does much of the same thing. Therein, averting their own blame.
One doesn’t have to love Grapes or even like him. No matter what, they should respect him just as he would respect them. Honestly, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. The same can be said for Don Cherry.