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Photo Credit: awfulannouncing.com

Let’s Talk About Don Cherry For A Moment…

Don Cherry is a Canadian institution. Your own personal opinion of him not withstanding, this much can not be denied. For over 35 years he’s been a fixture on CBC’s and now Sportsnet’s hockey broadcasts. There was speculation recently from the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons, that Cherry could be shown the door – speculation that was since shot down by the man himself – but it’s worth talking about his spot in the history of hockey culture and just maybe if his historic run on TV should or shouldn’t be done.

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The Wrath Of Grapes

Don Cherry is not just a throwback to a bygone era, he’s a reflection of our past hockey selves. He coached and started broadcasting at a time when the terms “trolley tracks” and “keep your head up” were common place over terms like “targeting the head”, while “having your bell rung” was what we all referred to concussions as back in the 1900’s. He is from an era where the Russians were the great enemy and 97% of players in the NHL were from Canada. His ultra-nationalistic bordering on jingoistic views towards anything non-English speaking – including his views of Franco-Canadians – were molded by hostilities in the 70’s and 80’s.

While the rest of us moved on, adjusted and grew out of those tropes, Grapes never really has and it has been somewhat by design.

Even in the 80’s as he begin his TV career, people turned in for the Saturday night hockey, but made sure to stick around during the first intermission – better known as that time where a bulk of advertising is done during the game – to catch seven minutes of the former NHL coach losing his shit over the game, promoting the rock’em sock’em nature of the sport that he ended up turning into a video franchise that spanned 25 some odd yearly videos and DVDs, and most of all sprinkling his appearances with ludicrous statements that would rile up if not outright anger people.

Not that his appearances are or were always negative which also made him must-watch most weekends. He would point out the ridiculousness of plastic being used on shoulder and elbow pads which only added to the dangers of hitting, he was in favor of no-touch icing in order to protect players wiping out against the end boards (or at the very least a variant of it) long before the NHL got wise to it, he’s championed the efforts of Canadian troops and first responders, and while his viewpoints may have been off base at times, no one can deny Cherry is and has always been a proud Canadian in a nation not known for it’s bragging of one’s nationalism – which at least worthy of a little appriciation.

He’s also been a known supporter of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg and the Bruce Oake Recovery center.

When he took his antics a step too far at times saying the absolute wrong thing, he never seemed to be properly punished or removed from the medium outright. If anything, people just sighed, shrugged their shoulders, said a prayer for his co-host Ron MacLean – who in hindsight was the one tasked with trying to reel in Cherry from going too far and provide some sanity to his segments, but was just as much a willing part of the show more than he was innocent bystander – and then tune in to Coaches Corner the next week to see what outrageous thing Don Cherry would say next.

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That formula has worked out well for him even if there has been a switch from us laughing along with him to us laughing at him. As long as we kept tuning in and our eyes kept watching  from the final horn of the first period through the Budweiser advertisements and then into Coaches Corner, there has been this feeling that it didn’t matter how silly he came across as long as people watched and advertising dollars rolled in.

But there has also been a growing sentiment among hockey fans that Cherry’s act is well past it’s overdue date and even as a car wreck, he isn’t worth watching anymore. His rant this past season about the Carolina Hurricanes provided a rallying cry for the team and possibly displayed how out of touch he is with today’s attitudes towards showman ship and celebrating the game, but it also brought an unprecedented amount of Canadians distancing themselves from Cherry’s “man of the Canadian hockey people” act and siding with the “Bunch Of Jerks” which was maybe most telling on how people see Don Cherry and in a way Rogers broadcasting of the NHL.

So one can’t blame Rogers – who pays Cherry very handsomely for his gimmick – from thinking twice about bringing him back.

In the end, it will likely be about if they feel their investment in Cherry matches the money they bring in from advertising and nothing else. For all the complaining that a lot of people do about Cherry, his views and comments, if it still attracts eyes to that sponsored seven minute segment, then there is no reason for Sportsnet to ask Cherry to leave.

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If Rogers does decide that Cherry has made his last TV appearance, or that this upcoming season will be his last one where they give him the Bob Cole treatment / retirement tour, it should be celebrated. Celebrated in that he’s had a long, successful career in hockey and will be a lasting touchstone on Canadian and hockey culture, and celebrated in that we are finally moving on from something that was likely past it’s time 15 years ago.

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