His live years with the Bruins were some of the happiest times of his life. His strategy called for simple, workmanlike hockey: throw the puck into a corner, beat up anyone in your path, get the puck out of the corner, shoot the puck at the goalie as hard as you can. He had a team of big players who could do that. The Big Bad Bruins. He was the ringmaster at their hockey circus but also a star performer. He walked the dasher as if it were a tightrope, pumped on adrenaline, howling at all perceived injustices. He quoted Lord Nelson and Popeye to the press. He treated each game as if he were sending knights of honor off to an icy plain to defend the honor of the poor city of Boston. He had fun.
"I don't think any team had more fun than that one," he says. "I remember one night we're playing L.A., and Hilliard Graves hits Bobby Orr from behind. I went crazy. I grab a guy, Hank Nowak, send him over the boards, screaming, 'Get him. Get him, Get him.' Poor Nowak, he skates to the blue line and turns around. 'Get who?' he asks."
There was the time when Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks committed some transgression. Cherry threatened to have the Bruins "send him back to Czechoslovakia in a pine box." Reporters wrote that down. Put it in the papers.
There was the time when Bruin winger Rick Middleton arrived at training camp overweight. Cherry said that Middleton "looked like Porky Pig." Reporters wrote that down, too. There was the time...there were a lot of times.
By the end, when he was feuding with then general manager Harry Sinden and assistant general manager Tom Johnson, calling them Ben and Willard, after the cinematic rodents: when he was decrying management for using "cheap pucks, no logo on the top, dime-store pucks that a rookie would be ashamed to keep if he scored his first goal in Boston Garden," he had developed a fullblown notoriety. His pet English bullterrier, Blue, subject of so many of his stories, had become famous. Blue was even doing commercials. The Bruins might not have won a Stanley Cup during his time, but they always were in the hunt, finishing first in the division four times.
Then Cherry was off to Colorado to coach the expansion Rockies. He was working with a ghostwriter on his autobiography. "Three years ago I couldn't spell author." he said on the first page when the book was published at the end of that expansion season. "Now I are one."
He was ready for television.
"There was controversy about him from the beginning." Mellanby says. "We decided that being a color commentator wasn't the right vehicle. He had too much force. It was too much of him. We came up with "Coach's Corner." In and out. Don't overwork it. A lot of people didn't think he was right at all, wanted to get rid of him right away. Luckily, I was in a position to have some control. He stayed."
The first shows were scripted and rocky. Cherry soon threw away the scripts and simply talked. Another broadcaster at the anchor desk fed him straight lines and subjects. Cherry talked. Talked? Cherry shouted, ranted, commanded the screen. An interesting statistic evolved: CBC executives noticed that between the first and second periods of Hockey Night in French-speaking Quebec, the ratings were going down for the French version of the broadcast while the ratings for the English broadcast were going up. What was happening? People were switching channels. They wanted to hear Cherry.
"I go with him to Montreal," says Ron MacLean, the broadcaster who now shares the CBC anchor desk with Cherry. "This is 1986. I had just started. This is our first trip together. We come out of the airport to catch a cab to the city. The first cab in line is this little cab. It's one of those Russian cars. A Lada. The starter tells us to get in. Cherry looks at the cab and goes crazy. What kind of cab is this? He isn't going to ride in a cab like this...this Communist piece of crap. He is screaming. There's a whole big scene. We get a new cab. A bigger cab.