With this week’s announcement of the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, once again the time has come for the usual complaints regarding who got in, who was snubbed, who was snubbed yet again, and who will be eligible for first-time consideration when next year’s selection process begins.
While finding fault with one or more of the current year’s picks is usually par for the course, that’s not what I have for you today. No, I was actually rather pleased with this year’s selections, so we’re not going to complain about any of them.
Instead, today I want to make a case for next year’s selections by proclaiming that Don Cherry should be honoured with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame (in the Builder’s category) for his brilliant career in and around the game of hockey!
Sure, Cherry has been known to offend from time to time, but then again, who hasn’t? Anyone with even an ounce of personality is bound to say something controversial every once in a while. And today, what with the cult of the perpetually offended continually looking for something to exhibit faux outrage over, causing offence is easier to do than ever. Besides, expressing controversial opinions is a huge part of what makes Cherry so entertaining to his fans.
Of course, Cherry has come up with a few humdingers in his day. One of his most memorable insults came in 1989 when he referred to then Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Alpo Suhonen as “some kind of dog food” (from ‘Top 10 most controversial Don Cherry quotes,’ Toronto Sun — 3/9/12). Ok, that one may have crossed a line, but surely we can forgive? After all, it happened 30 years ago!
Cherry, the Player
As for Mr. Cherry’s accomplishments in hockey, well, there’s no shortage of them. As a player (a defenceman), Cherry made a notable contribution to the 1953 Memorial Cup Champion Barrie Flyers, tallying four goals and three assists while also racking up 46 penalty minutes in 25 playoff games.
Just a couple of years on and Cherry would find himself playing for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League—the first stop in a long and successful minor league career. During this time, Cherry would briefly break into the NHL with the Boston Bruins, playing a lone playoff game in 1955. Sadly, an off-season baseball injury may have cost him subsequent opportunities with the club.
Even so, Cherry would still go on to have great success in the AHL, winning four Calder Cup Championships with two different teams between 1960 and 1968 (one with the Springfield Indians, and three with the Rochester Americans). He would ultimately play a total of 767 regular season games and 69 playoff games in his AHL career.
Though by no means a prolific offensive threat, Cherry was a spirited competitor with a deep understanding of the game that would later serve him well in his post-playing days.
A Successful Coaching Career
Cherry’s coaching career is even more impressive than his playing one. Spanning roughly the entirety of the 1970s, Cherry first coached the Rochester Americans for the better part of three seasons (beginning mid-way through the 1971-72 season), and later would go on to coach both the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Rockies in the NHL.
Of course, Cherry’s greatest coaching success came with the Bruins teams of the mid to late ‘70s, where he twice made the Stanley Cup Final (1977 and 1978), but both times had the extreme misfortune of running into a dynasty Montreal Canadiens club boasting the likes of such Hall of Famers as Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, Serge Savard, Jacques Lemaire, Ken Dryden, Guy Lapointe, Yvan Cournoyer… you get the idea!
In any case, Cherry finished his coaching career having won “Coach of the Year” honours in both the AHL and NHL (taking home the Jack Adams Award in 1976), and with a number of Adams Division titles. His overall NHL coaching record saw 250 wins, 153 losses, and 77 ties in 480 games coached, with a playoff record of 31-24. As great as these accomplishments were, Cherry’s greatest impact on hockey was yet to take place.
Don Cherry’s Legacy — Coach’s Corner
As great of a coach as Cherry was, he’s become an even better entertainer, and his work as hockey analyst and broadcaster are what has truly cemented his legacy. Tracing all the way back to 1981 (where it was first co-hosted by Dave Hodge), Coach’s Corner (in particular) has become an absolute institution in Canada, as well as being an integral part of Hockey Night in Canada for nearly four decades.
Since 1986, Ron MacLean has co-hosted the enormously popular first-intermission segment with Cherry, and while Grapes has periodically found himself in trouble with his numerous critics (including, on occasion, executives at the CBC—he’s even been known to be placed on a seven-second delay so that the network could censor him if he said anything too controversial), he has mostly flourished in this role.
Over the years, Cherry has become a legendary voice in the game of hockey, offering both advice and criticism to players and coaches of all statures and statuses without reservation. He’s not afraid to offend anyone, and this makes him one of the most genuine and honest people in television, even if he’s not always right.
Related: Jack Adams, the Man and the Award
Cherry is also known for his flamboyant suits and larger than life personality, which, in addition to his unique brand of hockey genius, all contribute to making his segments must-see TV.
But Cherry is not merely an entertainer—he’s also got a big heart and a charitable disposition, and he’s a true patriot in every sense of the word. In fact, he frequently expresses his deep appreciation of those that choose to serve in Canada’s military, as well as in other areas of public service (like police officers and firefighters).
Cherry’s various charity endeavours include helping to create awareness around the need for organ donation, along with a number of pet-friendly projects. He even founded his own charity (in conjunction with Simply Pets) called Don Cherry’s Pet Rescue Foundation, whose stated mandate (in Cherry’s own words) is “to make the public aware of the plight of homeless and abused animals and assist the people whose goal in life is to help such animals.”
Though Cherry has often come under attack, he’s also had many defenders, as well as legions of loyal fans. In fact, he was once (in 2004) even named among the greatest Canadians in history, coming ahead of such notable individuals as Canada’s first Prime Minister (Sir John A MacDonald), Alexander Graham Bell, Wayne Gretzky, and many others.
Cherry’s advocate in this process was none other than Canadian professional wrestling legend Bret “The Hitman” Hart, though Canadians themselves (through polls) made the final decision as to who the greatest Canadian was. Cherry ultimately came in at number seven on the list.
Cherry has clearly accomplished a great deal in and around the game of hockey. He’s also touched innumerable people along the way. In a lifetime of hockey service and dedication, he’s done more than enough to earn enshrinement as a Builder in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Few already residing in that wing of the Hall have done more to promote the game than Donald S. Cherry has, and it’s time he was honoured accordingly.
Leo Bond has written on a variety of different subjects for multiple publications—everything from classic literature and film to the latest emerging tech. A lifelong fan and student of hockey, he currently resides with his wife Dana in Vancouver BC, but will forever be a proud Maritimer from small town Nova Scotia.