Don Cherry (1934-)

Don Cherry
Don Cherry

Year Born: 1934

Year of Induction: 2000

Cherry, Don (1934- )

Few personalities in Canadian broadcasting ever generated such a large national awareness of their existence as Hockey Night in Canada’s Don ‘Grapes’ Cherry. His forthright opinions on Canada’s national game, and his flamboyant sartorial tastes, were first exhibited nationally when he was hired by the CBC to do colour analysis for the 1980 playoffs. So strong was the public reaction to his appearances that the Corporation hired him full-time to do colour commentary in 1981, and by 2010 Cherry had been with the CBC for thirty years.

Donald Stewart Cherry was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1934. A high-school drop-out, but a more than competent hockey player, Cherry began playing junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires in the 1951-52 season. He then moved to the Barrie Flyers, and helped them win the Memorial Cup in 1953. Turning pro in 1954, he joined the Boston Bruins, but played in only game for them, during the 1955 playoffs.

In the years that followed, Cherry played for a succession of minor league teams, and was on four AHL Calder Cup-winning teams, the Springfield Indians in 1960 and the Rochester Americans in 1965, 1966 and 1968, and the WHL Lester Patrick Cup with the Vancouver Canucks in 1969.

In 1969 he retired from playing professional hockey, and briefly had several non-hockey related jobs before returning to play for the Rochester Americans in 1971. Half-way through the 1971-72 season he was made coach of the team, and earned the AHL Coach of the Year title. By now, the Boston Bruins had become the Rochester parent team, and Cherry was promoted to manage the Bruins at the start of the 1974-75 season. In 1976 he was an assistant coach for Canada’s team at the Canada Cup.

After coaching Boston for five years, during which time the team made it to two Stanley Cup finals and two Conference finals, Cherry was fired by General Manager Harry Sinden in 1979. From Boston, Cherry moved to coach the Colorado Rockies, who were sitting last in the NHL, where they were in the spring of 1980 when Cherry was fired again. But with the Rockies out of the Stanley Cup, the CBC invited Cherry to do colour commentary and analysis for the HNIC playoffs, working alongside Dave Hodge. Such was the public response that the Corporation hired Cherry full-time at the start of the 1981-82 season, and his broadcasting career began in earnest.

As Cherry’s colour commentating became more and more opinionated, Hockey Night in Canada Executive Producer Ralph Mellanby looked for a more appropriate outlet for Cherry’s knowledge and comments, and Coach’s Corner was created. For the first six years, Cherry worked with HNIC host Dave Hodge during the first intermission of Saturday night NHL games, analyzing plays and offering insights into aspects of the on-screen action that the average viewer might have missed. He was also not afraid to criticize bad plays and bad behavior.

Coach’s Corner continued on when Hodge was replaced by Ron MacLean in 1987, by which time Cherry’s wardrobe had become even more flamboyant, and his comments even more opinionated, often to the extent that the CBC had to field criticism of Cherry from viewers who disliked what they saw to be xenophobic comments on foreign players, and Cherry’s unabashed lauding and encouragement of an old-fashioned style of bruising hockey. For a while in 2004 and 2005, the CBC ran Coach’s Corner on a seven-second delay, so that the producers could cut any segments that they felt were unacceptably offensive. Such, however, was Cherry’s popularity with the vast majority of viewers, that he survived such criticisms, and was still doing Coach’s Corner with MacLean twenty-three years later.

Away from television, Cherry did syndicated radio commentary for The Fan radio network, wrote books, and in 2004 was voted in seventh position by television viewers when the CBC invited votes for The Greatest Canadian. In 1989, he created a video series titled Don Cherry’s Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Hockey.

In 2007, NBC hired Cherry to appear with Brett Hull and Bill Clement in the second intermissions of its Stanley Cup finals coverage. The following year he was hired by ESPN to do commentary for some of the NHL playoffs, and to do pre- and post-game analysis.

In 2010 the CBC ran a two-hour made-for-TV movie, titled Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story, based on a script by his son Tim. He also appeared as himself in a CBC series, Power Play.

In June 2007, the Royal Canadian Legion recognized Cherry’s long-term support of the Armed Services by naming him a Dominion Command Honorary Life Member, and for the same support of the military he was awarded the Canadian Forces medallion for Distinguished Service. After his wife Rose died of cancer in 1997, Cherry made a major contribution to the establishment of Rose Cherry’s Home for Kids, a hospice for terminally ill children.

On the November 9th edition of Hockey Night In Canada’s Coach’s Corner segment, commentator Don Cherry (85) made a comment about “you people” when referring to new Canadian immigrants who did not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. Many people found the comment to be racist. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council received so many complaints that its system was overwhelmed. Two days after the broadcast, Cherry was fired and Sportsnet issued the following statement: “Sports brings people together – it unites us, not divides us. Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for. Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank [him] for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.” In the end, Cherry refused to apologize, saying his comments were not racist and could be applied to any immigrants. Not long after, Cherry was again speaking to Canadian hockey fans via his own podcast.