SI Vault
Jerry Kirshenbaum
January 15, 1979
Don't cross Don (Grapes) Cherry, hockey's most dapper and outspoken coach, lest he sic one of his Boston Bruins or his bullterrier Blue on you
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January 15, 1979

The Wrath Of Grapes

Don't cross Don (Grapes) Cherry, hockey's most dapper and outspoken coach, lest he sic one of his Boston Bruins or his bullterrier Blue on you

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Brad Park, the Boston Bruins' All-Star defenseman, says that Coach Don Cherry makes life on the team "enjoyable." Some moments, though, are clearly less enjoyable than others. For example, early this season Cherry was angry that Park had lost the puck, enabling the Washington Capitals to salvage a last-minute 5-5 tie, so he threw a water bottle and three towels at Park. That happened just two days after Park had returned to the lineup following knee surgery. "Jeez, what did I do?" Cherry lamented. "Here a guy hurries back from an operation to help the team, and I get carried away."

Fortunately, Cherry doesn't get carried away—really carried away, that is—all that often. The NHL's most vocal and visible coach, he otherwise directs the Bruins with a studied mixture of sternness and malarkey. Cherry believes in hard-nosed, tight-checking hockey and he expects his players to go into the corners, never to back away from fights and to be fresher in the third period than in the first. "We don't win, my family doesn't eat," he growls. Happily for his loved ones, his team wins; a Stanley Cup finalist the last two years, this season Boston has been battling the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders for the league's best record.

But Cherry, 44, is not just another hockey tough guy. He claims that "Nobody in this game has more fun than I do." Cherry's fun takes different forms. He has been known to yell "Gong!" when removing errant players from games, and he incessantly carries on about Blue, his beloved bullterrier. Several photos of this valorous beast are on display in his cramped Boston Garden office, but none of his wife Rose. He enjoys telling his players that Blue is brave, mean and true—just as they themselves must be.

When his players' eyes glaze over at talk of Blue, Cherry spins inspirational tales of dreadnoughts and great naval battles. An avid reader of biographies of Lord Nelson, Sir Francis Drake and other heroes of the sea, he tells his men, "Always listen to your skipper. If you don't, you'll be thrown overboard."

Cherry is indeed a showman. "My hair, is my hair all right?" he frets at the start of television interviews. He needn't worry; every strand of his thinning mop is sure to be in place. By far the best groomed of all NHL coaches, who as a group are not known for sartorial splendor, Cherry sports a handsome and expensive assortment of mix-and-match ensembles that he tops off with stickpins, cuff links and chains. In hopes of looking thinner, before games the 5'11�", 210-pound Cherry squeezes into jackets at least a size too small. Thus girdled, he has the uncomfortable appearance of an urchin forced to dress for church when he could be stealing hubcaps.

The voluble Cherry is a favorite with writers and broadcasters, who consider him the best interview in hockey. When the Bruins traded Winger Ken Hodge to the New York Rangers for Rick Middleton three years ago, Cherry, who hadn't been a fan of Hodge's, said to the press, "I would have traded him for the Ranger trainer just to get rid of him." After several NHL trainers complained about the remark, Cherry declared in all apparent seriousness, "I should have said I'd have traded him for the Rangers' Zamboni driver."

Cherry's willingness to offend absolutely anybody was demonstrated beyond further doubt at the Bruins' recent Christmas party, which was attended by players, wives, kids and dogs. Blue was absent, and when the Boston Globe's John Ahern asked the reason, Cherry deadpanned, "Having Blue around these other dogs would be like bringing Raquel Welch into the wives' room." Next day, in his car after practice, Cherry asked Defenseman Mike Milbury, who was looking at a newspaper in the back seat, to read aloud Ahern's account of the Christmas party.

When Milbury finished, Cherry's jaw dropped. "He didn't print my line about Raquel Welch. That gutless...."

Probably the most audacious thing about Cherry, though, is the way he keeps his team rolling along. Now in his fifth year as coach, Cherry has conned, kidded and bullied the Bruins to three consecutive Adams Division titles as well as the two appearances in the Stanley Cup finals. They lost to Montreal both times, but last spring carried the prepotent Canadiens to a surprisingly tough six games.

The Bruins succeed even though they have few players anywhere near as colorful as Cherry. Unlike the dazzling Canadiens, the Bruins boast only two certified NHL stars, Park, who recently reinjured his knee, and Goalie Gerry Cheevers. The Boston lineup includes the likes of the aggressive Terry O'Reilly and defensive specialist Don Marcotte, both solid performers, but neither a Guy Lafleur. The rest of the roster is largely filled with retreads.

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