TORONTO - A contrite Don Cherry finally apologized to three former NHL tough guys Saturday for disparaging them for their views on fighting in hockey.
Cherry apologized to Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson after he called them "pukes" and "turncoats" on the first broadcast of CBC's "Coach's Corner" of the season last week. He also said he was wrong to suggest that Nilan and Grimson linked fighting in hockey to drug use.
The three players said in a statement Tuesday that they are considering taking legal action against Cherry. Grimson is a lawyer practising out of Nashville.
"The first 'Coach's Corner,' I've got to admit I was wrong on a lot of things," Cherry said. "I put down three enforcers, tough guys, my type of guys, I threw them under the bus. I'm sorry about it, I really am."
In an edition of "Coach's Corner" broadcast Oct. 6, Cherry sounded off against the three players in an animated rant, accusing them of saying that fighting should be taken out of hockey.
"The ones that I am really disgusted with ... are the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson,'' he said.
"(They say) 'Oh, the reason that they're drinking, (taking) drugs and alcoholics is because they're fighting.' You turncoats, you hypocrites. If there's one thing I'm not it's a hypocrite. You guys were fighters, and now you don't want guys to make the same living you did.''
Cherry singled out the players as part of a longer segment where he accused those against fighting of using the recent deaths of tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Beak as a soapbox.
Grimson denied in media interviews that he ever said fighting should be removed from hockey, or that the enforcer's job causes substance abuse. Grimson also said he doesn't suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Nilan has been said he has addiction issues, but doesn't blame them on his job as an on-ice policeman during his playing career.
Thomson, however, says fighting should be banned from hockey and does blame his years of fighting in the NHL for his addiction.
Cherry's comments prompted CBC to issue a release Saturday distancing the broadcaster from his remarks.
Cherry had the chance to apologize for his comments later that evening on the season's second edition of "Coach's Corner." But apart from saying he regretted using some of his language, including the use of the word "pukes," he stood by his remarks.
Grimson, Nilan and Thomson said in their release that Cherry's attempt to lessen the severity of his rant last Saturday was unsatisfactory.
On Saturday, Cherry fully backtracked on his previous allegations.
"Let's get it right, Chris and Stu never said they took drugs because they were enforcers in the National Hockey League," Cherry said. "Also they never said they want fighting out of the game. That's for sure.
"I was wrong on that. One hundred per cent wrong. And when you're wrong, you have to admit it."
Nilan posted his appreciation for the rare Cherry apology on his Twitter account Saturday.
"I want to thank Don Cherry for standing up and making a public apology to the 3 of us," he posted. "Means a lot. We are friends once again."
Cherry's apology seemed to put him in a forgiving mood, and he gave Pittsburgh Penguins forward Arron Asham full marks for his apology for showboating after a fight
Asham drew criticism for his actions in Pittsburgh's game against Washington on Thursday. After Asham won a one-sided fight against Washington's Jay Beagle, he waved his hands as if he were a boxing referee signalling a fighter was counted out, then rested his head on his cupped hands to suggest Beagle was going to sleep.
Asham later admitted on a television interview that his actions were "classless."
Cherry, who has called out fighters for showing off after a fight in the past, said he was disappointed in Asham's taunts, but said he showed class by apologizing.
"It's pretty tough to admit in front of two million people that you were wrong," Cherry said. "You have to have a lot of guts and character."