Ron MacLean and Don Cherry are Saturday night staples in Canada. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
In the newest issue of The Hockey News, I sat down for an all-encompassing chat with Don Cherry, who will turn 75 years old in a matter of days. And though an ample amount of space in the magazine is dedicated to Cherry’s life in hockey up until now, it goes without saying ‘Grapes’ can fill up a tape recorder with fun stories and his famous views on the sport we all love.
With that in mind, here are some bonus anecdotes and thoughts from Cherry that we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
Sid the Kid needs to chill out: Cherry believes Sidney Crosby has trouble pacing himself on the ice, in the same way Bobby Orr did. “He will not back down and that’s how he gets hurt and he’s breaking down,” Cherry said. “That’s why he’s tired now, he just can’t keep that pace. John Tavares will play in the NHL for 20 years because he knows how to pace himself.”
Ovie has a license to kill: True, he’s the most dynamic player in the league, but Alex Ovechkin also has a tendency to hit from behind every once in a while and throws his body around more than any other star. Cherry believes this is because there’s no accountability – opponents know what Donald Brashear is there for. Even if Ovie wanted to drop the gloves, it’s unlikely he’d get a chance to square off before multiple teammates got in the middle; he’s too valuable. Cherry thinks Ovie may even be blissfully ignorant of the chaos he causes.
“He doesn’t realize it,” Cherry said. “I’ve seen guys ready to go (after being hit) and then they realize it was him. If you were a Canadian hitting like Ovechkin, you’d be fighting all the time. Ryan Getzlaf would be dropping the gloves all the time.”
Mississauga Memories: Despite the fact the team was dreadful when he coached them, Cherry said he was pleasantly surprised at how well the public treated him on the road when he was behind the bench with the Ontario League’s Mississauga IceDogs. He noted how easy it would have been for his detractors to jeer him in what was obviously a humbling situation.
“They never booed me,” he said. “And I was ready for it.”
Autographs: Thanks to his journeyman days as a player, Cherry is very responsive to autograph requests, especially from youngsters.
“I spent 22 years in the minors and nobody knew I was alive,” he noted. But naturally The Don has little patience for adults who only want the signature as an investment. Cherry always asks the name of the fan asking for his John Hancock and has a trick to make sure it’s just a souvenir; he’ll run the fan’s name and “to my best pal” into his own signature so an unscrupulous trader can’t erase the personalized portion.
“Gretzky used to bend the (hockey) card when he signed it,” Cherry added.
‘Grapes’ also has a very fair rule when kids come up to him at the various minor midget games he attends with his son; wait until the next whistle, then he’ll sign.
Slap Shot: The scene in the classic movie when Ned Braden is overheard saying all sorts of romantic things, and it turns out he’s talking to his dog? That’s based on Cherry, who used to confuse his next-door neighbor with his affection for his pet. At one point, the Bruins even called him ‘Reggie’ (Dunlop) in reference to the movie.
“Everything in that movie happened in the minors – except for the guy skating around naked, obviously – except one thing,” Cherry noted. “You’d never stitch a guy up on the bench, you’d go around the corner and do that.”
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.