It was only a question of time and now it has happened.
The voice and presence of Don Cherry as a fixture on NHL broadcasts is gone.
I liked Don, though I often disagreed with his views, and Coach’s Corner is, I suppose I should say, was, the only part of the broadcast that drew me to watch NHL hockey until the playoffs would begin.
Cherry has about him the mischievous manner of the rebel, the dissident even. He was born to go against the grain and he enjoyed every bit of it.
Yes, when his commentary went beyond hockey, primarily into politics, it was only a question of time when the ice he was then skating on would become too thin to endure his weight.
Finally, it predictably came and, true to form, he sought no mercy so that he might remerge on its surface.
As his popularity grew, we as much as he, increased the pressure on him to out-perform his previous self. In this sense he became caricature as much as man.
Let one thing be clear, however; Don Cherry is no bigot. It is not part of his DNA.
What he is, is a figure created in a past where truths and realities appeared clearer and less clouded. His was and is a Canada where no dream seemed impossible, where every citizen was expected to honour, without criticism, King or Queen and country.
When he cried on air on the occasion of a hockey legends passing, the death of a soldier, the untimely demise of a small child seen wearing a Bruins sweater or, as regularly on Remembrance Day, to the memory of those who served and especially those who had fallen, every one of those tears was real.
He scratched and clawed his way up the hard way, playing and then coaching for the most part in the American Hockey League and never being able to make it in the NHL as a player. The NHL greats, many of whom he knew and others he idolized, were giants to him. Struggle as he might to follow their paths, he could never quite make it but, and this is important to any analysis of Don Cherry. He never gave up.
(He) is a figure created in a past where truths and realities appeared clearer and less clouded.
Out of work from the AHL he would take his beloved wife Rose and the kids in their old station wagon, going from one construction site to another looking for work.
He would often recount this experience, concluding each version, tears in his eyes, saying that two years after this took place he was coaching in the NHL and having on his team, no less, both Bobby Orr and Brad Park. “Don’t tell me what kind of a country this is,” he would say, his love for Canada and the opportunities it (and the United States) provided to its citizens.
This is the Cherry that should be remembered. Yes, there is the ‘rock em, sock em’ side, his narrow version of what hockey should be about and the unfortunate effects of his political commentary, but at the heart of all of it was and remains Cherry’s love of a fair and just Canada.
It is not a Canada of division and racial discord. Neither is it an unwelcoming Canada or one of exclusion.
Instead it is one of limitless opportunities. When he sees, or thinks he sees, Canadians unappreciative of these opportunities and disrespectful of those whose blood, tears, toil and sweat,” achieved them it rankles him and often, as in this latest example precipitating his firing, he acts inappropriately.
It is to be hoped that opposing sides, one hiding their hate under the banner of free speech and the other, in turn, hiding, their limitless capacity to be offended, under the banner of proper speech, do not seize this moment to advance their own narrative driven agendas.
Rather, let the full measure of the man be properly measured and, in the process, let us remember those countless times when his presence and words to and among young hockey players brought smiles to many faces and a reinforcement in the knowledge that hockey is our game. Remember the encouragement he gave them.
Whatever mistakes he has made, and he certainly has made them, they were mistakes of the heart. His is a big one and has always been there for the kid in need, the guy who was down on his luck and the person who felt that there is a fellow on that TV screen who can talk to me and who I would like to talk to in return.
David Delaney lives in Albert Bridge. He can be contacted at [email protected].