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2:54 p.m. ET, 6/05/07

Cherry flavor

Posted by Allan Muir
The one and only Grapes.
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
As an agent for advancing the glories of Canadian culture, Don Cherry lacks the articulate grace of Sarah Polley, Leonard Cohen or even Alanis Morrisette, who offered lovely renditions of both national anthems on Monday night.

But as Don himself might say, that don't mean he don't make good television.

The host of CBC's Coach’s Corner, strangled syntax and all, joined Bill Clement and Brett Hull for the second intermission of NBC's broadcast of Game 4 of the Finals. And while he toned down his traditionally garish garb ("I didn't think the U.S. crowds were ready for one of my biggies"), Cherry lived up to the hype with an entertaining, two-segment appearance that focused on his favorite topic: fighting.

The panel discussion got off to a quick start when Clement asked Cherry how to prevent incidents such as Daniel Alfredsson's flagrant cheap shot of the puck at Scott Niedermayer at the end of the period. Any fear that Cherry would tone down the rhetoric for American TV was quickly assuaged.

"If I was commissioner, I'd like to get hold of the guy who put in the instigator rule," Cherry said, quickly revving into high gear. "The fans love the fights, the players love the fights, the people go nuts on the fights . . . but I'm told the reason they cut it down was because they wanted USA people to watch it. Can you believe that?"

"That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. U.S . . . NASCAR where there's crashes, football, kill the quarterback, ultimate fighting, who's kidding who?"

Honestly, it doesn't sound much better live than it looks in print, but that's the everyman charm that defines Cherry and has made him an icon in Canada. His willingness to say whatever's on his mind -- even when he can't say it clearly --is what makes his Saturday appearances on Hockey Night In Canada must-see TV.

"The National Hockey League and NBC and everybody in U.S. television is making a big mistake," Cherry continued. "They should go back to rock 'em, sock 'em."

Hull chimed in in agreement: "We could poll this whole crowd up here and they’d say, We love to see a good goal, and every other one would say, and I’d love to see a fight at the same time."

Apparently Cherry's speech patterns are infectious.

The trio also spent some time dissecting the hit that got Chris Pronger suspended for the game, with both Hull and Cherry saying that Pronger's equipment and Dean McAmmond's previous concussion history played a big part in the result. They also touched on Cherry's Game 1 visit with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"He was a good guy," Cherry reported. "You shoulda seen the security around him. Guns and everything. Nice guy."

"He's a right winger that's moving to center," Hull said.

"No, no, he's a left winger now," Cherry replied somberly. "He's a tree hugger."

The only time the two weren't in lock-step was on the subject of Alfredsson's controversial goal in Game 3. After Hull protested that it shouldn't have counted, Cherry went on a classic counterattack by bringing up Hull's own Cup-clincher from 1999. "You should talk, Mr. Foot In The Crease. That goal shouldn’t have happened."

Of course it all came back to fighting in the second segment, and in true Cherry fashion it included a bite at the hand that was feeding him: "Look, it would help the game. It would help your audiences and it would help our audiences, you better believe it. Take a poll in here and 75-80 percent would like to see a tussle. Remember, Dick Ebersol: More fights, you'll get bigger crowds."

If Ebersol, the head of NBC Sports, needs additional input to support Cherry's theory, he should check out his own web site. A poll placed there after Cherry's appearance shows 86 percent of respondents agree with the pro-fighting position. Chances are the numbers would be even higher if viewers were asked if they wanted to see more of Cherry on NBC's broadcasts. Hull may be striving to be Cherry-esque in his first season as a commentator, but there's nothing like the original.

posted by SI.com | View comments |  

Comments:

Posted: 1:54 PM, June 05, 2007   by Anonymous
Don Cherry can really get on my nerves sometimes but I was fully behind what he said on NBC last night.
Posted: 3:09 PM, June 05, 2007   by Hank Kingsley
Now that I have my HD TIVO I always record playoff hockey games.

It's a perfect system. I never have to watch pregame, anthems or between periods.

I can only watch hockey.

And of course Coach's Corner. I never miss it. He eases the pain. The fact some don't like him bothers me not.

I don't do regular season hockey (regular season hockey is boring without fighting) until after the Super Bowl. But I always tune in around 5:15 PM Pacific on Saturdays to catch Don. Nobody does it better.
Posted: 3:17 PM, June 05, 2007   by Anonymous
With a relatively new audience, Cherry went back to an old stand by (fighting), and it served him well.

His act on Coach's Corner is getting tired - he needs to come up with new stuff, and seems to be grasping at straws. I find myself wondering if he even believes some of the stuff he spouts off about.
Posted: 5:06 PM, June 05, 2007   by Anonymous
Folks can scoff at Cherry and his hideous suits all they like but the fact is, he picked the Ducks and Sens to go to the finals from the beginning, he's not just a blowhard, the man just knows hockey and he's more right more often than any other hockey commentator out there.
Posted: 8:28 AM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
NBC/VS/ESPN needs Don Cherry for something like Thurs. Night Hockey during the regular season. I think ratings would be much higher in the U.S. from this and create more interest because Cherry gets people excited about the game.
In addition to picking the Senators and Ducks, he has also wailed against the heavy duty shoulder and elbow pads that today's players wear. Now, after 2 or 3 years, the NHL is looking at regulating these items to help reduce the severity of the head shots. Cherry is truly an icon and a wonderful human being. Just watch his near weekly tributes to fallen Canadian soldiers. Wonderful stuff!
Posted: 8:53 AM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
Cherry can be a bit of a Neanderthal at times, but he's usually got it right.
Hockey used to have an unwritten "code" where you left the superstars alone. The fighting was mostly used to avenge a transgression of that code, and the offenders of that code rarely repeated their mistake.
Hockey's turning into a "dirty" sport - rife with cheap shots, a lot of stick-work, and the superstars of the game are targets for such abuse. The instigator rule now penalizes a team that seeks to protect their stars.
Dropping the instigator rule would allow the players to police their own game.
As a lifelong hockey viewer, I am not convinced that hockey would turn into roller derby if the rule were lifted.
Posted: 10:08 AM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
my favorite was Cherry calling Brett Hull on his foot in the crease...that made my night...
Posted: 1:25 PM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
cherry is an ass! He's never won anything in his life. Why do we listen to his crap
What a classic event!

I'm a Dualie CanAm that lives in California. Born and bred in Ontario. Go Sens AND Ducks!

My American wife could not for the life of her understand why I was so excited about Grapes and Hully on the same broadcast!!!!
To michael, I don't understand how you could get so excited over Hull & Cherry either.

Sure Grapes has some entertainment value but he continually reverts to the same old crap over and over visors, swedes, instigator, french players etc.. it's been done to death and it's time for him to retire! Seriously!

Like the fella said he has never won anything even when he should have (70's Bruins)!

As for his predictions he's all over the map with this stuff if you watch regularly you know that he is forever contradicting himself not to mention the number of times he is outright wrong, he never shows those predictions on camera!

Like I said "light entertainment value" that's all you get with this clown, please NBC take him away!
Posted: 5:13 PM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
Cherry is the best! Some just don't like him, but Cherry knows the game.

Fire Bettman and hire Cherry!
Posted: 6:15 PM, June 06, 2007   by Anonymous
A perfect parallel is Howard Cosell on Monday night football to Don Cherry on HNIC. Loved, hated, WATCHED! MNF never returned to form once Howard left.
I am glad that some of you like our old, tough, Kinston Ontario guy Don. He has forgotten more than most will ever know about our game. Most of the pro players will agree with much of what he says. Keep your stick on the ice eh.
Posted: 2:12 AM, June 07, 2007   by Anonymous
I have seen Cherry for a long time on CBC and I get Center Ice so I see HNIC and his commentary.

What I have felt for a long time what versus should do, because they have done this in the playoffs is to pick up the feed from HNIC and air it on versus in its entirty.
Posted: 5:52 AM, June 07, 2007   by Anonymous
Fighting is a disgrace to hockey. It is a patent disregard for professional sports ethics and sportsmanship. Moreover, fighting and cheap headshots by professional hockey players serve as a very inappropriate role model for youth. In essence, it demonstrates that if you lose in a game or other life event, it is ‘manly’ to commit a violent assault or sucker punch another player or citizen which is a cowardly criminal act.

The NFL, NBA and MLB do not condone such conduct. If the NHL ever expects to rise to a level of dignity worthy of a larger viewing audience, then fighting and cheap headshots need to be eradicated from the ‘sport’. A larger viewing audience will appreciate athleticism and skill exemplified by young hockey players like Crosby.

Pathetic viewers who experience a vicarious macho thrill by watching someone get knocked senseless can always tune into MMA shows which feature poorly skilled participants who likely suffer from irreversible brain damage and progressive dementia from years of Neanderthal pounding on each other’s heads. Perhaps it would be a boon to hockey if Don Cherry and like minded persons redirect their careers to studio wrestling or MMA.
Posted: 10:06 AM, June 07, 2007   by Anonymous
The simple fact of the matter is that removing the instigator rule and allowing the players to police themselves will create a safer playing field. The people that don't understand that, and consequently say that it creates more violence, simply don't get it. Call the game the way it is beening called now, to create room, make goalie equipment smaller, allow the players to protect/police themselves from cheapshots and just watch...the people will come. TRUE OLD TIME HOCKEY!!!!!
Posted: 10:34 AM, June 07, 2007   by Hank Kingsley
Anonymous @ 5:52 - High brow or what?

It has been said elsewhere but using the NFL, NBA and MLB as role models seems kind of sad to me. Those leagues are so full of bad actors that they should probably allow fighting to boost their image.

If renting party boats filled with whores, raising fighting dogs, packing guns, doing steroids, etc. is good stuff then I'll take fighting anyday.
Posted: 11:59 AM, June 07, 2007   by Sandra Mason, Ontario Cda
Don Cherry for the order of Canada! now.... Anon 5:52 a.m. - Wow, someone p in your cornflakes this morning? Fighting is as much a part of hockey as an Ace is in tennis. IT'S PART OF THE GAME - you wouldnt play chess without a king, golf without a putter, box without a right hook.. why would someone, who apparently doesnt understand the game, lobby to remove or rail against an essential part of the game of hockey? Amen to abolishing the instigator rule... and bring in NO TOUCH ICING! p.s. Don Cherry is the most charitable Canadian alive.
Posted: 2:19 PM, June 07, 2007   by Anonymous
Anon 5:52 a.m. You have got to be kidding?! You actually reference the NFL, NBA and MLB and talk about being "role models"!!??? And then admonish the NHL for promoting violence? Check out the rap sheets on so many NFL players! Look at the size of the average MLB player's head! They look like juiced water buffalo!! Look at what these players represent in all aspects. Truth be told, there are no better role models, in terms of athletes, on the planet today. The work ethic, the teamwork and character. Yes, there is the occasional "throw down" during a hockey game but we sure don't here about them being involved in shoot outs at bars late night. We don't hear about pervasive illegal performance enhancing drug use. The boys of the NHL are truly role models.
Posted: 3:39 PM, June 07, 2007   by Anonymous
5:52 obviously has never played a team sport at any serious level, or 5:52 would know about the rampant violence in the NFL or NCAA football ranks (ever been in a pile up scratching for a fumble? THAT'S some unregulated violence). NBA? HA! Yeah, flopping all around like a soccer player every time you're touched on the court isn't "violent", but the gangsta gun-culture lifestyle chosen by many NBA'ers and emulated by millions sure is. MLB? Ya, it's 99% body contact free, except for the bean balls, spiking the basemen by runners, bowling over the catchers and the dozen or so annual 20 man pile-ups at the mound that result.

NO sport is as back and forth, fast, difficult, graceful, and physically demanding as hockey, period. When 200 pounders run into 200 pounders against walls and glass, there is violence there. And when folks take cheap shots and liberties, there is hell to pay. When it's known, and paid back swiftly, it's less likely to happen to your guys as well as the others. But it's obvious you've never known that.
Posted: 8:11 AM, June 08, 2007   by Anonymous
No one is advocating a "Wild West" brand of hockey. But if the situation demands it, a good face-rub with a glove solves a lot of problems.
Without sounding like Don Cherry, there's no fighting in European hockey...and it's the dirtiest game in the world.
It's a game dominated by Canadians, and Canadians (maybe) have a different moral code.
Hockey is tough...it's the toughest championship in professional sports to win. But it should not be dirty, and the occasional bop in the snoot would curtail the liberties taken by less talented players.
Posted: 10:37 AM, June 08, 2007   by Anonymous
Cherry is dead on right. Most of the people in the US have never played the game and they have no clue as to the emotional level it's played at. Hockey is a true team sport, unlike the ESPN-hyped NBA. Don Cherry vs Dick Vitale or Marv Albert in a battle of commentators, it's no contest.
Posted: 12:49 PM, June 08, 2007   by Werner Ott
Hockey has a couple of strict rules involving fighting. They are "no third-man-in" and "no leaving the bench during a scrap". Both of those rules are flagrantly ignored by the 3 other "mainstream" American sports.
A 40-man melee in baseball or football is INFINITELY more dangerous than 2 willing participants in a 20-second hockey dust-up!!!
And let's not even talk about basketball, OK?
I'm tired of "dumbing down" our national sport to suit Mr. Bettman's pathological need to attract American viewers, who would rather watch tractor-pulls than a hockey game.
Watching tractor-pulls is OK, but don't sell out my sport to grab uninterested viewers.
Posted: 7:35 PM, June 08, 2007   by Anonymous
I'm from an upstate city called Rochester. Coach Cherry played here as a defenseman and later he coached the local squad. I had the pleasure of playing for Coach Cherry in High School when he was in a transitional period. A finer man you will never meet. Coach Cherry knows the game and knows what the real fans of our sport like. About forty years afer High School, I run into Coach Cherry in Montreal before a Leafs vs. Habs game. We talked about the "Old" days and he couldn't have been more sincere.
Don Cherry Rules.
End of Story.......................
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