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Phaneuf and Don Cherry: some thoughts

Don Cherry tends to be a polarizing figure, to be sure.  For many he can do and say no wrong.  For others he is, well, a joke.

I’m not really interested in wading into either a defense of - or critique of - Don’s weekly Saturday night work.  I will say that on issues like player safety, (no-touch icing, the size of equipment causing injuries, hitting from behind, etc.) he has often been well ahead of the curve.

He is patriotic to be sure.  He can also be loud, annoying and seemingly narrow-minded, but he is paid to be entertaining and opinionated and he certainly fulfills that mandate.  He called Mario Lemieux a floater way back when (and Mario was, in his early days).  While he sticks to certain positions passionately if not always correctly and is therefore assumed to be something of a dinosaur, in a lot of ways he has been proven correct more often than not.  But everyone has their own view of Don and that's the beauty of free speech and divergent opinions.

(A funny aside…I remember when our eldest son, then maybe 8 years old and now in his 30s, was watching a game with me in our old house more than 20 years ago. “Coach’s Corner” was on.  I guess he had never seen Cherry before and after watching for a few minutes, he just turned to me and said calmly, not trying to be funny or cheeky, “Dad, doesn’t that man know how to speak without yelling…?”)

In any event, Don is Don and his "show" is still a can’t miss chat for a lot of people on Saturday night.

I did happen to notice late in the Boston-Leaf game that when Nathan Horton wanted to go with Phaneuf, Horton deliberately discarded his helmet.  Phaneuf did not.

Now, I’m hardly one to opine on the merits of fisticuffs in hockey or what the rules, formal or informal, should or should not be.  That's way beyond my area of expertise.  Like a lot of fans I like tough, clean hits though I’m not a big fighting guy.   But if two guys are legitimately ticked off in the old “heat of battle” moment and they want to have a go, no problem.  They can then cool off for a while in the penalty box.  I think the sport has bigger issues than fighting to deal with, including, yes, hits to the head and the seeming epidemic of guys getting hammered from behind into the boards.  This stuff just didn’t happen as much when I was a kid back in the 1950s and ‘60s.  There was dirty stuff, sure and on occasion some wild stick-swinging (Green-Maki, Shack-Zeidel), which was awful in its own way.  But thankfully it was pretty rare.  Of course, there was also the bench-clearing brawl era from the early '70 until well into the '80s when the league finally cracked down.  Thankfully, those things have largely been dealt with.

(As an aside, I don’t pretend to know all the so-called fighting “codes” and all that, though I’ve watched the game for more than 50 years.  I think sometimes this code stuff is largely made up. But whatever.)

But I just didn’t like to see Phaneuf fight with a visor on when the other guy had discarded his headgear.   I mean, it’s none of my business, but doesn’t that seem an odd thing, to accept a “fair” hockey fight but then  make sure the other guy has nowhere to connect?

Cherry made a point of this after the Bruin encounter, and tied it into the Leaf captain’s unwillingness to take on big Chara earlier in the game when Chara had issued the invitation.

Now, I wouldn’t tussle with Chara if someone offered me big money.  But them I’m not an NHL player.  And I’m certainly not the captain of the most popular (and proud?)  franchise in hockey history.

I’m not quite sure what I felt watching Phaneuf, as a Leaf fan, when he fought the way he did with Horton  Embarrassed?  I’m not sure what the word is.  Maybe just disappointed.  I mean, the guy has clearly been playing better of late, has been a physical—and an offensive—presence.  He’ll likely be a very good player for the blue and white.

But a leader?  I don’t know.

There are different forms of leadership, absolutely.  And I'm not suggesting you have to be a fighter to be a leader.  You don't.

I keep thinking about Sittler, Gilmour, Wendel Clark and guys like George Armstrong and Dave Keon who all led in different ways.  They all wore the "C" proudly.  As a fan, I never felt crummy about them as team leaders.

But there was something that left me, well, wondering, after watching that sequence unfold on Saturday night.

Your thoughts?


  1. with all the concusions problems lately I think fighting without the helmet is a dumb thing to do but I do think that Phaneuf should have taken Chara's offer.

  2. Cherry and others also made the point that Phaneuf didn't really want to fight Norton either: it was late in the game and the score was lopsided. I think not taking off the helmet was more a function of not really wanting to fight, then finally saying, ok fine, but his heart wasn't in it. I think it was an honest mistake.

  3. I don't think Phaneuf should have fought Chara. Remember what big Z did to McCabe?

    Dion should not have fought with his team up 5-1, he had no obligation to fire up his team and a fight risks injury. He did take off his helmet the previous time he fought Horton.

  4. I see no reason for him to fight Chara - what good has ever come from that for anyone? Ask McCabe, as many have pointed out about. And while I was uncomfortable about him fighting with the helmet on, I agree that it seems like an honest mistake as he hasn't done so in the past, and he was a reluctant combatant at best.

    It's worth pointing out too that this was Horton's own doing. He wasn't a victim as Cherry made him seem (it clearly wasn't Phanuef going after 'a kid' - the two are the same age). Why he thought that it would turn out well for him is beyond me.

  5. Long suffering Leaf fanMarch 21, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Quick little funny note on Don Cherry- I’m sitting in a sport bar called Buffalo wings in Jackson Tennessee enjoying the Nashville Predators game when all of sudden, appears Mr. Cherry sporting one of his famous loud jackets! To see and hear some of the people who have never seen Mr. Cherry before was entertaining to say the least. Now onto my thoughts about his comments on Dion Phaneuf; I didn’t see any problem with Phaneuf not engaging in a fight with Chara. In fact, I thought it was very smart of him (and not just because of Chara’s advantage) because at that point in time the Leafs were only leading by one. Taking Phaneuf off the ice for five minutes would not have only charged up the B’s, but it also would’ve hurt the Leafs since Dion is our big minute’s d-men. As far as Mr. Cherry comment after the game about Phaneuf fighting Horton, I found a little puzzling. I agree with him that Phaneuf should’ve taking off his helmet since Horton did his, but the stupid remark of saying that he should not have fought Horton because he is younger is plain DUMB! Apparently, Mr. Don Cherry needs a program guide, because he would clearly see that Horton and Phaneuf were taking in the same draft year with Horton going third and Dion ninth in 03.

  6. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

    Everyone posting here so far seems to concur that there was little (none, actually) wisdom in Dion taking on Chara.

    As for Cherry's comment about fighting a "kid", those commenting here correctly indicate that Dion and Horton are the same age. Don was just off-base on that point.

    Regarding Phaneuf not taking off the visor, I understand wanting to protect yourself from injury. But if that's the case, then don't accept the fight, period.

    Again, I'm not so much concerned with "codes" or whatever. I just don't see that it makes any sense for two guys to fight but one of the players wearing a haelmet and visor while doing so.

  7. Horton and Phaneuf were going at it all night - starting with Horton's cross-check of Phaneuf, which was followed seconds later by a hard Phaneuf check on Horton in the corner. As stated above, there was no reason for Phaneuf to fight Horton, and he tried to avoid it. This whole "helmet on or off" thing makes no sense to me when one guy clearly doesn't want to go. Horton got what he deserved.
    Phaneuf and Chara fighting wouldn't make any sense, as also stated above.
    To my eyes, Phaneuf has been doing a great job as Captain in setting the example of NOT taking on meaningless and potentially very costly fights. Take a look at the hits he's been dishing out the last couple of months. He has no need to fight!
    The so-called "code' that Cherry spoke of is just plain dumb. Colton Orr has been out for what - two months? - because he fought a meaningless fight according to the rules of this so-called code. Exactly how has that helped the team?

  8. Thanks as always for the comment, Gerund O...I respect what you are saying. Where I guess we differ a bit is if a player is going to fight and one guy gets rid of the headgear, it strikes me that the other guy should do the same.

    That said, I'd be fine if the league did away with fighting altogether, just like the NFL, where it's never been "part of the game". It would get rid of the 'macho' thing where guys feel pressured to "answer the bell" when challenged.

    And I agree, Phaneuf has been having an impact with his physical presence, which is far more important than fighting.

    I just would have preferred he turn Horton down, I guess, rather than fight with a visor on.