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Hockey Night in Canada. Don Cherry Credit: CBC
Hockey Night in Canada. Don Cherry Credit: CBC

Bruce Dowbiggin

Hellfire befalls those who criticize Don Cherry Add to ...

It simply doesn't pay to tweet in the direction of Don Cherry or Hockey Night In Canada. Just ask veteran producer Mark Askin, who works for Leafs TV. Askin has a Twitter account dispensing rather frank opinions on subjects in the business. Since The Globe and Mail published the audio tape of Cherry's profane rant at a young radio producer for 680 News in Toronto last month, Askin has been weighing in on Hockey Night's meal ticket.

"Amazing eh! … Listen to Cherry swear … Listen to how much he enjoys using that language … He knew he was being recorded … He got caught," Askin wrote in one tweet as the Cherry tape became public. "I am on a rant here folks … Sick of Cherry getting away with his arrogance … Canada Public taken in by his … complete crap."

When Cherry refused to apologize for swearing at the reporter or to engage neurosurgeon Charles Tator in a debate about hockey violence, Askin opined, "Notice how Cherry does not want to talk to the doc … Nor did he apologize for his F-rant … Just defended what's convenient … Chicken[bleep]… How about Cherry, who says 'kids, do this or that' … But either his ego is too big or his intellect too small to apologize for F-rant."

Askin's darts were not restricted to Cherry. Recently he wrote, "Is it ever nice to hear Bob Cole doing play-by-play of a Leafs game … The best of all time … Not the arrogance of usual Saturdays."

The comments are controversial, but still fair - everywhere, that is, but in Canadian broadcast circles, where dishing the dirt on competitors is considered not a done thing. When Askin's bosses at Leafs TV caught wind of the tweets, Askin was initially suspended for two games. The mortified folks who own Leafs TV and the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly sent their apologies to Hockey Night. The opinions expressed by our employee … etc.

By the end of last week, Askin had sent his mea culpas to Hockey Night, and the suspension was lifted. As Cole likes to say, "Cooler heads prevailed." (Although the tweets remain on Askin's site.)

It's understandable that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment doesn't want its employees freelancing their opinions about the biz. What's less clear is why MLSE is so solicitous of a competitor's feelings. Perhaps it's because, while Cherry's not a paid employee of the club or Leafs TV, he does bleed Maple Leafs blue on his Hockey Night spot. Maybe it's in Leafs general manager Brian Burke's contract that he's the only one at MLSE who can blast away at the competition. Or maybe they're afraid the Coach's Corner celebrity will deride them the way he derided the victorious U.S. junior program after it won gold.

To paraphrase Conn Smythe, much more of this type of thing and we'll have to print more tickets.

Heavy hands

Askin's tribulations for criticizing Cherry are nothing new. When we published the Cherry rant in December, CBC Sports vice-president Scott Moore tried to convince us not to make the story public. Having been sent the YouTube tape of Cherry's interview by Usual Suspects, Moore declared the interview a set-up and Cherry the victim of a vendetta on our part. Moore then threatened to cut us off from contact with anyone at CBC Sports if we went ahead with the story.

Sure enough, when we did publish, Moore followed through with his fatwa. "In future, for all issues regarding CBC Sports, please direct your questions to our PR director, Tim Knapp," a terse e-mail read. Which begs the question of why a senior executive at the country's public broadcaster was demanding we suppress a legitimate story about a public figure from CBC belittling a reporter. But when it comes to Don (Ka-ching) Cherry, previous rules do not apply at the Corp.

Cone Of Silence

Speaking of going public, the consensus seems to be that Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows probably had cause to out referee Stéphane Auger for threatening to punish him, but he was offside in going to the media. From ex-referee Paul Stewart in David Shoalts's story in The Globe yesterday, to players such as Craig Conroy, the message was: It's an internal matter. "No one likes a tattletale," Conroy said of Burrows.

Which is fine within hockey's cloistered community. But the de facto muzzle on talking to the press also gives the league a pass on suspect officiating. It's hard to watch the penalty calls in the third period of the Vancouver-Nashville Predators game in question last Monday and not wonder whether Burrows was justified in saying Auger was out to get him. Or to see the discrepancies in officiating from one crew to the next and not wonder what in the name of Frank Udvari is going on out there.

Players can mute themselves, but in the long run they only make their lives more difficult by keeping the refereeing shroud on the game.

Not-So-Instant Replay

Calgary Flames fans could only wince at the story about Pittsburgh TV producer Lowell McDonald Jr. being indefinitely suspended for not quickly showing a replay that could have proved Philadelphia Flyers forward Simon Gagné scored a short-handed goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 7. To Flames supporters, it's all too familiar to Martin Gélinas's Stanley Cup-winning goal-that-wasn't-a-goal in Game 6 of the 2004 final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gélinas's close-in chance against the Lightning got a very perfunctory review from replay officials before quickly being declared no goal. Only after play resumed did a camera angle emerge showing that the puck seemed to be in the net. Tampa went on to win Game 6 and 7, denying Calgary its second Cup.


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