Don Cherry comes clean

AP Photo Detroit Free Press via Getty Images

By now, the hockey community knows that Don Cherry is no longer employed by Sportsnet. The less said about that network, the better. Ditto for lifelong partner Ron MacLean, who stood by and gave a thumbs up on set. Then buried his friend that helped him get his job back with CBC twice. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

The truth is Mr. Cherry is an 85-year old man who still has more energy and passion than people half his age. When it comes to the sport, Grapes has always given a hard hitting opinion on anything. A lot of the time, he was right. Particularly about the safety issues when it came to players getting hurt due to unsafe areas with no give like near the benches. He would illustrate how to block a shot without risking serious injury.

Of course, I always enjoyed his rants on face-offs. One time, I was over a friend’s house in South River, New Jersey when this quirky man who guided the Bruins to two Stanley Cup Finals in the 1970’s, went cuckoo over how important draws were. He screamed over and over again, “Face-offs! Face-offs! FACE-OFFS!”

It was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen on the Coach’s Corner. The always entertaining first intermission hockey segment on Hockey Night In Canada. There was no denying the chemistry between MacLean and Cherry. I wasn’t introduced to the back and forth banter until the 1990’s. Maybe it was due to not seeing anything like that before. Right away, it appealed to me. I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle at some of the stuff Cherry would say. But as a former successful coach, he had merit.

Even if you didn’t always agree with his controversial takes on Russian players (my biggest gripe), he had a point about having good old kids from Ontario on your roster. I remember one particular instance in which he went up and down the Maple Leafs roster. To say he was displeased would be an understatement.

When it comes to how I feel about building a competitive roster, I believe you need the right combination of skill, skating and physicality. It can’t be one dimensional. I watched the Canucks lose to the Bruins for the 2011 Stanley Cup due to not having enough grit. They didn’t push back enough against Boston, who had a prime Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. It cost them their first Cup. The Rangers were similar under Alain Vigneault. Though it was more due to the hated Kings’ superior talent, size and physical forecheck. It was a winnable series had they not sat back and relied on Henrik Lundqvist.

All this stuff is part of the way Cherry thinks. He is right about one thing. You cannot allow your team to get pushed around. We saw it with the turn the other cheek Blueshirts too much as the AV Era wound down. Under former Boston University coach David Quinn, they no longer back down. There are more scrums and even some fisticuffs even if that part of the game is fading. You still need some truculence. Having character guys like Brendan Lemieux, Micheal Haley and even skilled yet tough defenseman Tony DeAngelo helps. Especially with a young rebuilding roster. They can’t allow the kids to take cheap runs without retribution. Accountability is important in hockey. It’s a team sport.

As far as Cherry goes, he came clean today. In his first public statement to the Canadian Press, Grapes was candid about what he meant. Sometimes, words come out wrong. We’ve all been guilty of this. My conclusion was that Cherry should’ve worded his commentary on wearing poppies differently. Something he admitted in an interview.

The thing I like is his sincerity. He knows he messed up. But he also stood by what he meant yesterday. This was all about wanting more Canadians to pay homage to the great soldiers who served on Remembrance Day. It’s definitely something he’s passionate about.

Anyone who has watched him over the years knows how much he loves the great servicemen and servicewomen that sacrificed for Canada. How many haunting images have we seen over the years presented by him over the outstanding people who mean more to our way of life than anything. That goes double for every US soldier. They are the true heroes. Seeing the images of fallen soldiers presented by Cherry, who spoke highly of each by presenting their names and talking about who they were, always left me choked up.

No matter what you feel about the man personally, he got it. I’ve seen an awful lot of misguided opinions from the same kind of people I don’t have any respect for. They’re the same ones who reduce themselves to personal insults, unfair labels and cheap attacks that have no place in society or on social media. This is what’s being pushed by many in the mainstream media. Where everything is front and center. In your face even if they don’t always get the story right.

There are way too many people who jump to conclusions. Who don’t realize the psychological damage they’re causing along with grief. They are nothing but bullies. Cyber bullying is a serious issue in schools. So too is bullying. Often, it’s not the bullies who are blamed when sickening tragedies occur. If people treated each other nicer and with more respect, it’s my opinion that a lot of these shootings would decrease.

The media doesn’t help. They immediately put up photos of the killers and their names. Never thinking for a second that it comes off wrong. It’s the victims that matter. Their families will never be the same. Who were the innocent victims. The question is who drove these mentally unstable people over the edge. It’s something that’s frequently ignored.

They all ignore mental health. But the stigma is real. I know. I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. But I don’t have a bad bone in my body. Most importantly, my mind. I wish more people affected by this disease were like that. Not everyone is.

The way we treat people matters. I’ve disagreed with things Cherry’s said over the years. He’s not perfect. Now, he no longer is part of Saturday’s. It was always going to end. It just should’ve been done differently.

Communication matters. Until we get back to treating people with opposing viewpoints right instead of attacking them, we’re fighting a losing battle.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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1 Response to Don Cherry comes clean

  1. Pingback: Game #16: Kaapo Kakko Night, rookie lifts Rangers to thrilling overtime win over Penguins | Battle Of Hudson

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