Sunday, March 29, 2009

In defense of Don Cherry

by Sean Leahy - Yahoo Sports

I don't mind Don Cherry. Really, I don't.

I know his xenophobia, borderline racism, and out-of-touchness with the modern game have rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, but don't we all have one older family member that possesses one of those characteristics? We don't take offense to any unusual comments made by the loved one and pull a Tuukka Rask-esque tirade; we just brush it off and get on with our lives.

That's what so puzzling to me about the reaction to Don Cherry, not just in the recent Alexander Ovechkin-celebration issue, but anything the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Hockey host says that's controversial.

Maybe I'm not so offended by anything Cherry says because I don't take him very seriously. I enjoy him for what he is: a character, whose sole job is to entertain on the topic of hockey.

For eight minutes every Saturday night during hockey season, he offers a sermon on the state of the game from his pulpit that is the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. Not only is it fun to anticipate what kind of insane suit Cherry will sport, but seeing how many times he can make Ron MacLean uncomfortable is also very entertaining.

In the past month, the vitriol aimed at Cherry has increased tenfold after his pointed comments about Ovechkin and his display of exuberance after scoring a goal. The critics came out in full force, calling the man of many jackets a laundry list load of things, including a blowhard. His opinion on showing emotion after scoring a goal will have no affect on whether or not people keep tuning in, though.

No matter who he offends, hockey fans will still anticipate the first intermission every Saturday night for "Coach's Corner". It's the "Howard Stern effect" from Private Parts. Why did people keep tuning in to Stern as Paul Giamatti's "Pig Vomit" told us in the movie? Because they wanted to hear what he had to say next. And the same goes with Cherry.

When hockey fans saw Ovechkin's 50th goal celebration last Thursday night, you know their collective first thought was, "I wonder what Don Cherry is going to say about this on Saturday night."

What makes Cherry so polarizing is his mouth and the knowledge or garbage that comes out on a weekly basis. He's a proud supporter of everything Canada: From Doug Gilmour to Bobby Orr to the military, with whom he salutes fallen soldiers at the end of each "Coach's Corner". He's also stirred up controversy for disparaging remarks against European and French Canadian players for their use of visors.

When he's not talking about the hot topic around the League, Cherry has the ability to break down the subtle nuances of the game for the average viewer, highlighting a player's positioning on the ice, an important shot block by a defenseman or a deft pass as to why a play succeeded or failed. His knowledge of the game of hockey is second to none.

It's when Cherry begins talking about today's NHL player where he veers off and pisses off the masses, such as the latest instance with Ovechkin.

Maybe it's a generational thing with Cherry and he's unable to relate to players in today's game? Gone are the stoic players who would just raise their hands in the air when celebrating a goal. Today's NHL player, making ten times more money than any one that Cherry every played against or coached, are younger and show much more personality out on the ice.

In Don Cherry's NHL, every player would be like Sidney Crosby: respectful of the game, a stoic personality, who's sometimes robotic in responses and doesn't make himself the center of attention. Or as Wyshynski put it last week, "...what is the Don Cherry 'classy' and "right" way to party down after a goal? Put on a loud jacket and give the thumbs-up? Hum a few bars from 'O Canada'?"

In that sense, it's easy to see why a player with Ovechkin's personality, on and off the ice, would put a wrinkle in the latest outrageous suit of hockey's most famous talking head.

Going back on the Ovechkin issue one last time: Isn't the personality that he shows on the ice the same sort of thing that Cherry represents as a talking head? Isn't Cherry's loud, boisterous personality comparable to the excitement and passion that the Washington Capitals' star shows on the ice?

Love him or hate him, Cherry, much like cockroaches or the NHL's love affair with black jerseys, isn't going anywhere. He's been put on a seven-second delay since the visor comments in 2004, but he's still at the forefront of the CBC's Hockey Night coverage, and Cherry will still be there every Saturday because hockey fans won't stop tuning in.