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It would have been interesting hear the conversation between Bart Yabsley and Don Cherry before the Sportsnet president decided to fire the star of Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner on Monday.
I don’t think Cherry believed he would be fired after his “you people” rant Saturday night, accusing immigrants of not buying poppies. Cherry had crossed the line many times before — insulting francophones, First Nations people, European hockey players, and ranting that female reporters don’t belong in NHL locker rooms. Cherry has always refused to apologize for anything he says, standing behind his 85-year-old beliefs and refusing to evolve.
If he had apologized to the many, many people he offended this time — like his sidekick Ron MacLean did after nodding his head in agreement during Cherry’s rant and giving a thumbs-up — Cherry would probably be back on Coach’s Corner this Saturday.
But Cherry’s ego was allowed to swell over the years as his previous bosses continually gave him a pass to say whatever he wanted and he could basically dare them to fire him. If he did dare Yabsley this time, it backfired.
The Royal Canadian Legion — the people behind the poppies — wouldn’t even defend Cherry and issued a statement saying: “Mr. Cherry’s personal opinion was hurtful, divisive and in no way condoned by the Legion. We do remain appreciative of his passionate support for Veterans.”
More importantly for Cherry, Budweiser — the major sponsor for Coach’s Corner — found his comments “inappropriate and divisive,” agreeing with Sportsnet’s decision to fire him.
The Canadiens’ Max Domi said after the team’s morning skate Tuesday in Brossard that he still loves Cherry, always has and always will.
“He’s a big reason why most of us play hockey,” Domi said. “We grew up watching Coach’s Corner and stuff. It’s unfortunate what happened. It’s sad. He’s a big part of hockey. That’s all really we can say, unfortunately, nowadays. But you know what, it’s unfortunate.”
When asked if he agreed with Sportsnet’s decision to fire Cherry, Domi said: “I can’t comment on that.”
Domi said Cherry had a huge influence on young hockey players in Canada who grew up watching Coach’s Corner.
“I mean that guy’s been around the game for so, so long,” Domi said. “I know him personally. He’s a great guy. His grandson Del was one of my best friends growing up. I’d go over to (Cherry’s daughter) Cindy’s house all the time and became very close … we were family friends. Like I said, it’s unfortunate how everything unfolded. But 85 years old, that’s a heckuva career. He’ll always be remembered as one of the faces of the sport.”
Domi’s father is also a close friend of Cherry’s, which isn’t a surprise because Tie Domi is the NHL leader with 333 career fights and was a star in many of Cherry’s old Rock’em Sock’em videos.
The Canadiens’ Victor Mete also grew up watching Coach’s Corner and said it was “a little bit surprising” Cherry got fired.
“At first when I saw it, I didn’t know what had happened, so I was kind of like a little bit in shock,” Mete said. “But then I kind of saw it and everything. I guess it was kind of the right choice there.
“Growing up back home (in Ontario), Don Cherry was, like, the guy,” Mete added. “That’s why you watch Hockey Night in Canada, to see what kind of suit he’s going to wear and everything. So it’s definitely way different now.”
Mete remembers Cherry showing up to watch “a bunch of games” when he was playing for the minor-midget Junior Canadiens in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. One of those games Mete will never forget.
“He came into the room and yelled at me for not skating enough,” Mete recalled with a chuckle. “It was pretty crazy.”
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien had this to say about Cherry: “I’m a big-time supporter of our veterans and people that died for the sake of giving us the freedom that we have today. But at the same time, I’m also a big fan of our league that is trying to tell people that Hockey is for Everyone and we like to include people. In today’s society, I think that’s the direction we have to take.”
In an interview with the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran on Monday , Cherry said he doesn’t regret a thing, adding: “I guess I’m going out on my shield.”
“If you notice, I never said ‘immigrants,’ I never said anything. I said ‘you people’ and they could have been Scottish, they could have been Irish, they could have been anything, but that’s the way the world is today,” Cherry added. “They listened to those people.”
“You people” became “those people.”
Cherry will never change.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019