Sunday, July 18, 2004

Don Cherry to be resigned by CBC

After months of speculation that we were watching the last episodes of "Coach's Corner" during the 2004 playoffs, the CBC has decided to bring back the Coach, Don Cherry. On Tuesday, Cherry met with Nancy Lee, head of CBC Sports, and the meeting went well. Cherry assured the CBC that he would be a good citizen and avoid politically incorrect remarks (ie bashing French/European hockey players and Canada's decision to not send troops to Iraq, among others). Cherry is expected to be offered a one-year contract, but it could also include a second-year.

I expected the CBC to backtrack on its Cherry-bashing and keep him as the hallmark of Hockey Night in Canada. First of all, there was a rush of support behind Cherry's partner, Ron MacLean, when it was announced that he was leaving two years ago. MacLean never went anywhere. In addition, "Coach's Corner" has been the spike of Hockey Night in Canada (all of CBC, for that matter) ratings for the longest time, and that is solely due to Cherry's straightforward, no-nonsense approach to hockey analysis. Not only do hard-core hockey fans tune in, but people who change the channel to CBC just to watch Cherry's first intermission antics. Finally, with Cherry's status in the hockey world, it would be inevitable for another station (such as TSN and Rogers Sportsnet) to pick him up in the event that the CBC kicked him out the back door. That would essentially kill Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC's highest rated program. The delay in a decision had been good news for Cherry all along. Sources confirm that, if they were planning on dumping Cherry, the CBC would've done it right after the Stanley Cup Finals:

"You can't keep a guy like Cherry, who has done so much for the network, waiting around unless you're open to re-signing him."
During his 23-year stay at the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry, 70, has always had a cloud of controversy surrounding his roughly 7-minute tirade. Even though Ron MacLean is paid to sit in on "Coach's Corner," that's about all he does. MacLean tries to direct Cherry's thoughts, but the Coach always says what he wants and follows his agenda. Cherry usually analyzes hockey for the first five minutes of "Coach's Corner," saving the last couple minutes to give public thanks to Canadian troops, police, and/or fireman, and then showing a picture of himself with a kid. Amidst his hockey analysis, Cherry also intercedes with "Kids, don't ever do that" remarks that bring the point home for viewers. I have no problem with Cherry's aforementioned "agenda," and it's one of the reasons why the show is so popular. If you're given a weekly 7-minute time slot, and you use part of it to connect to the community, it really brings Don Cherry down-to-earth. Cherry on Bertuzzi On March 14, I recounted the first "Coach's Corner" segment after the Todd Bertuzzi suckerpunch. All hockey fans tuned in to see what Grapes would say about the play:
"Look should never ever do anything like this. Todd was wrong, he knows it's wrong. If you have a beef with somebody, and you want to do something, it's face to face, face to face, and you settle it that way. You do suckerpunch ever from behind, you got a beef, it's face to face, that's the Canadian way."
Cherry came down hard on Bertuzzi, but also then Avs Coach Tony Granato, who sent Steve Moore out on the ice without Peter Worrell there to defend him. He also said that he felt sorry for Bertuzzi when the media made fun of him crying ("those weren't crocodile tears"). Finally, he criticized the league's $250,000 fine of the Canucks organization, because he thought that it was unfounded. Brief Biography Cherry was a career minor league player (16 years) whose only NHL game came in the '55 playoffs with the Bruins. After retiring as a player, Cherry drifted away from the game and got a job as a construction worker. After the 38-year-old Cherry was layed off by foreman Whitney Smith, Cherry returned to the game as coach of the Boston Bruins three years later. In his coaching career with the Boston Bruins, Cherry translated his tough personality to making his team tough-as-nails and one of the best teams in the latter 1970's. It is also said that he modeled the Bruins' playing style after his dog, Blue (the one seen in the "Coach's Corner" theme). Cherry won the Jack Adams in 1976. The outspoken Cherry also had his faults. Coach was fired after the 1979 playoffs. This was due to his famous too-many-men-on-the-ice call in Game 7, versus the Canadiens, when the Bruins were up by a goal with less than two minutes remaining. The Canadiens tied the game on the powerplay and won in overtime. If you ever meet Don Cherry in person, do not ask him about that game. I'm sure many journalists could tell you why... The culmination of Cherry's controversial comments led to a seven-second delay on Coach's Corner." In a country that strives hard to maintain unity with French and English speaking citizens, Cherry had come out against the French too much (basically saying they are wimps and thus wear visors). The Official Languages Commissioner of the Canadian Government launched an investigation, shadowing Cherry wherever he went, and finally recommending sensitivity training for all CBC employees. My Views I am relieved that Don Cherry will be back in the hot seat (23 years and counting). Cherry is one of the biggest ambassadors of the game. He speaks from the heart which gets him in some trouble) and gives hockey a grassroots, homey feel. As a hockey fan, I have been blessed with being able to watch Hockey Night in Canada from the United States (Detroit area gets CBC). I can confidently say that I wouldn't be the impassioned fan I am without segments like "Coach's Corner." I feel bad for hockey fans in the United States who aren't exposed to Hockey Night in Canada. The ESPN/ABC coverage of the NHL is much too dry and packaged. I always choose the CBC and Don Cherry over ESPN/ABC and Barry Melrose, and it's because of the passion that comes from Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada. Don Cherry is a great man, and my only regret is that I didn't see all 23 years of hockey passion. Love him or hate him, people seem to be attracted to the Archie Bunker that Don Cherry brings to their living room.


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