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Hockey commentator and former coach Don Cherry looks on during the 2011 CHL/NHL top prospects skills competition in Toronto, January 18, 2011.    (Reuters)

Hockey commentator and former coach Don Cherry looks on during the 2011 CHL/NHL top prospects skills competition in Toronto, January 18, 2011.   


A Q&A with Grapes: Don Cherry on lockouts, life and why he’ll never get into the Hockey Hall of Fame Add to ...

JM: Pavel Bure said the other night he didn’t really miss it when he left, which surprised some of us.

DC: Well he had a lot of injuries. He had to quit. I actually missed it. I really missed it. When I quit, a lot of people say ‘walk away,’ but I remember Rochester [when he was forced out of the AHL] was like a knife in my heart watching the news that night.

And I had no injuries. The lord works in mysterious ways. Nothing that followed me as I go.

I’ve got all my teeth. Sure, I broke a shoulder and broke an ankle and stuff like that. But I’m okay. I was the hitter, not the hittee.

JM: You’d even think just standing in front of the net without a helmet would be a dangerous way to make a living back then.

DC: Well I’ve got a lot of scars. [He points out the various spots on his lip and chin where he was stitched up.] The guy sowed them up while I sat in the dressing room. No novocaine or anything back in those days. The difference now from back then is we’d never show pain.

We were like baseball players; you know how they’ll get hit by a ball and they’ll go to first and they’ll never rub it? We were the same way.

Not now. They flop around and squeeze the blood a little bit and let on they’re hurt. We’re almost getting like soccer players some of them.

Back in those days you’d have a broken hand or broken ankle skate off the ice because they wouldn’t show pain. Back in those days it was tough.

In the American League, the guys were fighting to get up and fighting going down. I stayed right in the middle. I never went up and I never went down. It was a tough go. Buses. Three games in three nights. Get in there at six, play that night, leave after the game. That’s why I have to laugh now at the guys. Charter planes. Their biggest decision is steak or fish.

My wife, we moved 53 times. My Rose. She never complained once. Fifty-three times. She went with me all the time... It was a tough go. I remember when we were packing, she’d have a cardboard box with a half a bottle of ketchup, salt and pepper and stuff, because we couldn’t afford to start all over again [by buying new condiments in another city]. That’s life.

I think over the years, it really toughened me. So many bad things happened to me. Like I mean bad things. You couldn’t hurt me anymore. I’d get bad write-ups in the paper - it doesn’t hurt me anymore.

I remember my first write-up though, it was a guy named Trent Frayne. I think it was The Globe. He gave me my first bad write-up. And I didn’t know how to take it because I was just starting out in TV and I didn’t know if I was going to go back on or not. Then I got another bad write-up, then another bad write-up and after a while, it doesn’t bother you. But I do get some bad write-ups. I didn’t think I was that bad.

What happened in my life, you have to be tough. Tough physically and mentally. Or you’ll never survive. Same as coaching. Over the years, I got tough.

JM: It still seems like that for the coaches in the league. The stress.

DC: It is tough. I mean, you’re the guy. No matter what happens. When the guy jumped on in ’79 and cost us the Stanley Cup, that was my fault. It wasn’t really my fault.

When you get too many men on the ice, on TV, Hockey Night in Canada, they’re going right to the coach. It’s his fault. [Sarcastically] Yeah I told him to jump on and the whole deal. But that’s the nature of the game.

So I went from player, which I love, to coaching, which I love, and TV. But the player is the best. Being a player’s the best.

JM: Do all those questions about your age bother you?

DC: You know, I talk to a lot of guys. I talked to one outside the church the other day, I’d say he’s about 65, 70. He said ‘I guess you’re unemployed now.’ I said, ‘yeah but I keep busy and everything.’ He says, ‘you know, that’s why you kind of keep young, because you keep busy.’ He said, ‘me, I get up in the morning, I’ve got nothing to do after working all my life.’

Maybe just being busy all the time keeps me going.

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