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Ron MacLean (left) and Don Cherry on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. CBC (CBC/CBC)
Ron MacLean (left) and Don Cherry on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. CBC (CBC/CBC)

MacLean backs Cherry in debate with enforcers Add to ...

Ron MacLean says Don Cherry is being treated unfairly over his season-opening Coach's Corner blast against a trio of former enforcers and their take on fighting.

But the Hockey Night in Canada host acknowledges that the two weren't as clear as they could have been.

“I think part of it's unfair, but I also accept I take a lot of beatings in the media and there's nothing I can do about that but go back and say ‘Well what could I have done differently to make it clearer?“’ MacLean said in an interview Thursday. “The only thing is if you're not clear — and we weren't clear that night.

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“I can't take full responsibility because I didn't even know what the point was that night. I didn't understand that there was anything wrong with what he'd said. I didn't know if in fact Stu Grimson was misquoted or not.

“I'm still uncertain a bit because I happen to think Grimson was sort of laying out in an article on Grantland (www.Grantland.com) some things that make you link with what happened to (Wade) Belak to fighting.

“All I can say is I think Don is such a sharp guy that he doesn't wade in very often without knowing exactly where he's going. To say whether (Cherry's treatment) it's fair or unfair is not our prerogative, but I know I'd stand by the guy. And I would weigh his opinion over most, over the opinions of most.”

Cherry called out former enforcers Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson, labelling them “pukes” for suggesting that NHL players who fight are prone to substance abuse.

Cherry also lashed out at anti-fighting advocates in general, saying the summer deaths of former tough guys Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were used as a soapbox for their arguments.

Grimson, Nilan and Thomson subsequently issued a statement calling Cherry's comments “damaging and inflammatory” and said they were looking at legal avenues of recourse.

Grimson has denied he ever said fighting should be removed from hockey, or that the enforcer's job causes substance abuse.

In the Grantland story, Grimson does talk about the hard life of a hockey enforcer and the difficulties he faced when it was time to leave the game after a concussion.

Nilan has talked about his addiction issues, but doesn't blame them on his past role as an enforcer. Thomson has said fighting should be banned from hockey and blamed fighting in the NHL for his addiction.

MacLean says such issues as addiction and depression do not lend themselves to sound bites.

“I could go half an hour on that subject and Don was trying to deal with that subject in 40 seconds. Did he chronologically set it out? Of course, not. It was a bit awkward in the sense that you could connect dots awkwardly if you listened to it.

“He was trying to quote Georges Laraque and his derision for those who take a stance on fighting and (want to) get rid of it.”

Kirstine Stewart, the CBC's executive vice-president of English services, subsequently issued a statement saying Cherry's comments reflect his own personal opinion.

“While we support his right to voice that opinion, we do not share his position,” Stewart said in the statement after the HNIC segment aired.

Cherry later said he regretted using the world “pukes,” more for the fact that kids might have been watching.

Stewart says she spoke last Friday with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and delivered a similar message.

MacLean says that doesn't surprise him.

“Gary and I have had our moments and he's stopped coming on ( Hockey Night in Canada) sadly so I can't ask him these questions. But he makes no bones about the fact he sees us a partner in the way of a marketing arm. Not in the way of ‘Hockey Night in Canada' as a journalist.

“And if I have to go the way of the dodo bird, I will go the way of the dodo bird on that one. Because we pay $100-million for the rights but we don't pay $100 million to be told what to say is good for the game.”

Cherry has also challenged recent disciplinary rulings by Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's new vice-president of player safety, saying they are altering the sport.

MacLean made his comments in an interview about his new book Cornered.

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