Skip to main content

Don Cherry is introduced to the media as Rogers TV unveils their team for the network's NHL coverage in Toronto on Monday March 10, 2014. On Saturday night, the combative co-host of Coach’s Corner singled out Toronto-area immigrants for not wearing poppies during a tribute to war veterans.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Like many pro hockey players, Tyson Barrie grew up watching Don Cherry ruminate, sometimes on matters he should have left alone, on Hockey Night in Canada. As he sat at his dressing stall on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs defenceman mulled the long-time broadcaster’s dismissal by Rogers Sportsnet.

“It is unfortunate to see him go out like this,” Barrie said. “Don is a legend, and has been such a big part of hockey.

“In the age we are in, when you say something [publicly], it is out there for the world to see, and that generates a lot of opinions.”

Story continues below advertisement

On Saturday night, the combative co-host of Coach’s Corner singled out Toronto-area immigrants for not wearing poppies during a tribute to war veterans.

“You people that come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that," the 85-year-old Cherry said while jabbing one finger at the camera. “These guys pay for the way of life you enjoy. [They] paid the biggest price.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs say Don Cherry did a lot for hockey, but his comments about new Canadians not wearing poppies were uncalled for. The Leafs weighed in on the Cherry controversy a day after Sportsnet sacked the longtime hockey commentator in the wake of his controversial comments on Hockey Night in Canada. The Canadian Press

The furor triggered by his comments led Cherry to be fired on Remembrance Day. There is a terrible irony in that, because he has always fiercely supported the military. His eyes often teared up when he talked about his love for soldiers on the air.

Cherry has since described his words as not being racial or bigoted but patriotic and respectful. His employer, Sportsnet, the NHL and the CBC, for whom he worked across four decades, disagreed.

When asked to apologize by Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley, as his partner on the program Ron MacLean had on Sunday, the pugnacious former National Hockey League coach refused. That caused him to be dropped from a broadcast he first joined for the 1980 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On the day after, reverberations were felt around the league.

In Montreal, Max Domi expressed admiration for Cherry, who has always operated with controversy in his wake. Over the years, among other things, he sideswiped francophones and blasted European players, called Liberals pinkos and made fun of climate-change believers.

Story continues below advertisement

“I love Don Cherry," said Domi, who has known him all of his life. His dad, Tie, was a bare-knuckles brawler, the hardscrabble type of tough guy Cherry held in the highest esteem. “What he’s done for this sport is remarkable. I will always look up to him.”

As of Tuesday, nearly 200,000 people had signed a handful of different petitions being circulated that demand Cherry be reinstated. Fans called him a symbol of the working class, and railed at Sportsnet for caving to the politically incorrect. Others lauded the network for making a decision they say was long overdue. The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council was so overloaded with complaints about his diatribe that it exceeded the organization’s capacity to keep track of them.

In a series of television interviews on Tuesday night, Cherry said he would not apologize for what he said, but would choose different words.

On a busy practice day for the Maple Leafs, Cherry’s departure garnered as much attention as Mitch Marner’s injured ankle, Zach Hyman’s imminent return and the arrival of rookie goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

Hyman, who underwent knee surgery during the off-season, will rejoin the team when it plays the Islanders in New York on Wednesday night. Kaskisuo was called up from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies after Michael Hutchinson, the backup to Frederik Andersen, was waived on Monday.

Hyman, 27, recalled how excited he was the first time Cherry ever mentioned his name on television.

Story continues below advertisement

“It was awesome," Hyman said at the team’s practice rink in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. "He has been around hockey forever, but you can’t say stuff today like he did. You’ve got to be accepting of everyone.

"'Hockey Is For Everyone’ is one of our slogans in the NHL, and it’s really true. For him to say that sort of stuff is unacceptable.”

John Tavares, the Maple Leafs captain, grew up in Toronto and recalls seeing Cherry stand behind the glass when he played in minor hockey tournaments.

“I think it is disappointing on many fronts, the comments, but certainly the way his tenure ended,” Tavares said. “There was so many good things that he did through his commitment to the game. I think everybody would wish something like this never happened.”

Jason Spezza, who at 36 is the oldest member of the team, finds it sad.

“I’m not one to weigh into it too much, but what makes Canada great is the equality we have and how diverse our culture is,” Spezza said. “You don’t like anything that is discriminatory and offends anyone, but Don is an icon. You don’t like to see things end that way.”

Story continues below advertisement

Head coach Mike Babcock said he understands why people were offended.

“I know when you are in a situation like I am you have to be mindful of how great the game is and what it is all about,” he said. “I am sure it must be tough on him and his family, but having said that, certain things are right.”

Back at his dressing stall, Barrie said he believes Cherry’s comments may have been misunderstood.

“He is 85 years old,” Barrie said. "I don’t think he meant it the way it has been taken. At the end of the day, though, we all are responsible for our actions.”

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies