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Despite the red jacket and Santa Claus tie, Don Cherry's message on Saturday was surprisingly belligerent.

The topics discussed by Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada's Coach's Corner included native Canadians, racism and environmentalists.

At one point, he was so upset with host Ron MacLean that he tried prematurely to end the five-minute intermission segment.

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An incident in the first period of the Chicago Blackhawks-Ottawa Senators game incensed Cherry and set the tone for the segment.

Tuomo Ruutu of the Blackhawks had light contact with Ottawa's Chris Neil after a whistle, Neil pushed back and was sent off, as Ruutu stood by laughing at him.

"Wouldn't you like to go up and smack that guy?" Cherry said. "That's what his brother is like."

Tuomo's brother is Jarkko Ruutu of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Jarkko was the main focus of Cherry's harsh commentary.

Jarkko, like his younger brother Tuomo, is a needler. On Dec. 15, he was knocked off his feet by New York Islanders winger Chris Simon, who then stepped on Ruutu's leg with his skate.

Simon, a multiple repeat offender, was suspended for 30 games, the NHL's most punitive sanction for an on-ice offence. But Cherry said Saturday that Jarkko Ruutu "asked for it" and "got it."

Although appearing to condone Simon's attack, Cherry qualified his remarks by saying Simon, "broke the code. You never do anything like that - ever, ever do anything like that - but you can understand it somehow."

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Scott Moore, the head of CBC Sports, said yesterday that Cherry, in his view, was not voicing approval of Simon's attack.

"He didn't justify or defend Simon's move," Moore said. "He was quite emphatic that he crossed the line. All he said was that he could 'understand it somehow.' But he quite rightly condemned the act."

Cherry and MacLean then debated Simon's motives.

Toward the end of last season, Simon was suspended for 25 games for taking his stick to Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers.

MacLean argued that Simon, who is of Ojibwa heritage, was disadvantaged growing up, felt the 25-game suspension was unfair and, therefore, still angry, hence his lashing out at Ruutu.

"A lot of First Nations kids go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking they won't get a fair shake," MacLean said. "Until Chris accepts that he's getting a fair shake, the message won't sink in."

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"What?" Cherry said. "You're saying that natives have an inferiority complex when something happens to them?"

MacLean then reiterated that some don't get a fair shake.

"Fair shake in life?" Cherry responded. "Go out and get your own fair shake in life and work for it! Don't give me that stuff!"

By now, Cherry is yelling. MacLean is waving his arms and rolling his eyes.

The next subject was Simon's coach, Ted Nolan, who is also Ojibwa. Cherry said it was wrong to suggest racism kept Nolan out of the NHL for several seasons after a successful term as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He attributed it to a suspicion, fair or not, that Nolan attempted to undermine his former general manager, John Muckler, in Buffalo.

MacLean said other issues were involved, and that was enough for Cherry. He wanted to stop the segment with two minutes still remaining.

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"You ruined the whole thing," he said to MacLean, accusing him hijacking the spot by imposing his views.

They struggled on, showing clips from a game between the Penguins and Boston Bruins. Cherry then referred to "a left winger" on the Bruins as "Dr. Suzuki."

The player in question was Andrew Ference, who initiated an environmental program for the Bruins and spends his off-seasons working with children in developing countries. Hockey Night ran a feature on Ference on Dec. 15.

Ference is a defencemen, but in the context of Cherry's politics and ideology, he's a left winger in the mould of famed Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki.

"That was sickening last week by the way," Cherry said of the Ference feature.

"What?" MacLean said. "What is going on with you here?"

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"What is this stuff?" Cherry asked. "It's Hockey Night in Canada. And we're talking about saving the world and all that stuff. Let's talk about hockey."

Of course, Cherry talks about subjects unrelated to hockey all the time: fallen police officers, firefighters, members of the military.

At the start of Saturday's segment, he reminded viewers of the real meaning of Christmas: the birth of "baby Jesus."

What's that got to do with hockey?

Moore said he was unaware of viewer complaints about the segment. "But audience relations would contact me only if there was a crisis."

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