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Canadian television sports personality Don Cherry tapes a segment for the Stanley Cup finals at Joe Louis arena in Detroit May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
Canadian television sports personality Don Cherry tapes a segment for the Stanley Cup finals at Joe Louis arena in Detroit May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

The Usual Suspects

Don Cherry blasts NHL on Marc Savard injury Add to ...

Applying the theory that a broken clock is correct twice a day (even in daylight savings), let us celebrate the bracing whiff of clarity on Saturday from Don Cherry on the subject of Pittsburgh Penguins agitator Matt Cooke, the NHL's slo-mo recognition about brain trauma and the definition of intent to injure.

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In a memorable Coach's Corner segment on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada , Cherry summed up the public disgust with repeat offender Cooke and its frustration with the NHL's timorous fiddling until someone gets killed by a deliberate head shot. In doing so, Cherry suggested what everyone knows - that until the league stirs itself to pass new head-shot legislation this summer, players have a free pass to target skill players for the next few months. To paraphrase LBJ, when the NHL loses The Don, it's lost the room.

Adding to the league's optics problem this past weekend, Edmonton Oilers president Pat LaForge dropped by the Live From Wayne Gretzky's syndicated radio program to say he understood why, in the wake of Cooke whacking Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins without penalty on March 7, that parents might choose another sport for their kids. LaForge conceded that, NHL fines be damned, players such as Minnesota Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard were principally on the ice to injure people. Ouch.

All this and we haven't had the Penguins/Bruins revenge match on Thursday. It's a construct of the NHL's making, and it might require David Copperfield to extricate it.

Snap Quiz

On NBC's NHL game yesterday, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin was thrown out for launching Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell face-first into the boards with a check from behind. Choose one of the following conclusions: Ovechkin was just finishing his check, Campbell should have known Ovechkin's penchant for dirty hits and kept his head up, they're taking all the contact out of hockey. Take your time, but if you answered yes to all three, you have a future in the NHL.

Welcome Matt

Is it just us, or does Raptors TV voice Matt Devlin sound an awful lot like Rod Black of CTV and TSN? Without the puns, platitudes and bad poetry, that is. Seems every time Usual Suspects tunes in for a Toronto Raptors game, there is that brief pause to identify exactly whose voice is calling the game, Devlin or Black?

They both have great pipes. They're skilled at getting in and out of commercials. Our rule: Wait 30 seconds and if no one says, "Eddie House is bringing down the house," we know it's Devlin.

Frankly, we weren't sure what to think of the newcomer early on. Recognition factor was not the problem with Chuck Swirsky's yappy dachshund delivery, replete with its "Onions, baby" and other gems. Swirsky's bombast - modelled on over-the-top American models such as Dick Vitale - filled his broadcast to brimming. Like a moth battering its wings against the porch light, he made a constant racket next to analysts Leo Rautins or Jack Armstrong.

Devlin, who's also called Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats games in the NBA, seemed innocuous in comparison with his predecessor. While he peppers his cast with the usual CB4s and Il Magos, Devlin's cadence is not as tortured with Swirsky lingo. As a result, Devlin's craft in shaping a game is more subtle and easy to overlook, especially when the Raptors stumbled from the gate and played indifferent basketball.

But catching his call of the compelling Raptors/Los Angeles Lakers game last week from Staples Center on Toronto's current West Coast trip showed that the new guy has found his running style. With Armstrong along to supply colour (why do all basketball analysts sound as if they're losing their larynx?), Devlin knew he had a pip of a game and did not get in its way.

He allowed Armstrong to gripe about the usual Kobe Bryant phantom fouls (we counted at least four in the fourth quarter), but didn't let the NBA's dirty little secret sidetrack his cast. While clearly the Raptors' voice, that didn't detract from Devlin setting up Bryant's game-winning shot by reminding us how the Lakers' star had previously missed a last-second shot in Toronto to allow a Raptors' win.

Devlin can also rag the puck, as he proved last Wednesday. Some Sacramento Kings fans were asking free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh, "Are you going to come to Sacramento next year?"

Replied Bosh, "Hell, no."

"So, 29 [teams]to go," Devlin said. For the sake of Raptors' fans and the continuing appreciation of Devlin, let's hope for some postseason calls that peel away the onions.

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