Happy birthday to the world’s latest octogenarian.
Don Cherry turns 80 today.
Hard to believe hockey’s most colorful personality was once an unheralded minor leaguer trying his darndest to make the NHL back in the 1950s and ’60s.
Here are the first two stories The Hockey News published on the 5-foot-11, 180-pound defenseman who was in his first season with the American League’s Hershey Bears.
Vol. 8, Feb. 5, 1955, pg. 12
Youthful Hershey Duo Developing Rapidly
By Dick McCrone
HERSHEY, Pa. – A couple of promising young rearguards, who some day may be guarding the blueline for the Boston Bruins, are making progress toward reaching the big time as the Hershey Bears head down the home stretch of the American League’s pennant chase.
They are Arnott Whitney, 23-year-old sophomore rearguard, and Don Cherry, a rugged 21-year-old rookie. Whitney is paired with his boss, coach Murray Henderson, while young Cherry is mated with Eddie Kryzanowski, another former NHL veteran.
Whitney, who has been playing with Henderson since he broke in as a pro with the Bears last season, is rapidly becoming a carbon copy of his coach. Henderson, regarded as one of the game’s finest poke checkers, has done an excellent job of teaching the fine points of defensive hockey to Whitney. As a result, ‘Whit’ looks more like Henderson than the Bear coach himself as the season progresses.
Cherry is an entirely different kind of rearguard. He combines poke checking with bone-crunching body checks, reminding of the slam-bang tactics of Ray Gariepy, now a Pittsburgh Hornet.
He is well equipped for the punishment he dishes out so handily. Standing 5.11, Cherry packs 180 pounds of dynamite on his frame. Aside from his ability to dump opposition forwards when they come roaring in on the Hershey cage, Don is also adept in carrying the puck. Many times he has started an offensive rush which paid off in a goal by lugging the rubber out of the Hershey zone and starting his forwards on their way.
Don came to Hershey this fall direct from the Barrie Flyers, Memorial Cup champions. Cherry is seldom rattled on the ice and his poker face, which never changes expression, is an indication that here is a young man with a purpose.
On the offensive side, Cherry has lit the red lamp on four occasions, while assisting on five other scores.
Vol. 8, April 9, 1955, pg. 2
Cherry Gets Call To Replace Injured Flaman
MONTREAL – With Fern Flaman out of action, the Boston Bruins employed Don Cherry, a stocky 180-pound defenceman in the last game of the semi-final playoff series against the Canadiens.
Born in Kingston, Ont., Cherry went to the Bruins via Barrie, Ont., and Hershey. He paired with Bill Quackenbush behind the blueline and acquitted himself well.
Another rookie who impressed in the series was Norm Corcoran, a 23-year-old forward, who was with Hershey last season. The Bruins also introduced Gordon Wilson, a lanky 175-pound centre, indicating that there is plenty of young among their chattels in the farm system. Cherry is 21 and Wilson is 22.
All were scouted by Hal Cotton, who predicts brilliant futures for them with the Bruins in the National League.
Sadly, that was Cherry’s only game in the NHL.
He did play 16 minor pro seasons for nine teams in four leagues. That brings to mind one of his famous quotes: “I prayed every night I’d be a hockey player. I guess I just forgot to mention to the Lord I wanted to play in the National Hockey League.”
Cherry’s didn’t really make the big time until he started coaching in the 1970s. He guided the Bruins for five seasons, losing in the final twice, and Colorado for one season.
His true calling came in the 1980s when he became a hockey analyst on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada. He has been a fixture on Coach’s Corner ever since.
Happy birthday Don.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN