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Don Cherry’s comment on the Leaf coaches: where do you stand?

Everyone is busy and readers who drop by on occasion may miss some posts they might otherwise have checked out.  Just in case, here are some that you might be interested in:

A column on the coaching/language question in Montreal- from my perspective as someone with a French (though not from Quebec) background

Dion Phaneuf and the captain’s legacy in Toronto

The Leafs and Getzlaf or Bobby Ryan

Father and son hockey disputes

The Wilson contract extension

When a trade sends your favorite Leaf away


It came and went in a flash.  In fact, I’m guessing because the CBC was rushing to give Don his few final seconds of air time for the night—before throwing to the Calgary-Kings HNIC nightcap—that the audience was much smaller than it is for, say, “Coach’s Corner”. 

But what was said was intended, very direct, and for some, likely hit the nail on the head.

Here is what happened (and someone please correct me if I have the sequence wrong):  It was Armed Forces Night at the ACC, a terrific initiative on the part of the Leafs and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.  During the Leaf-Ranger contest, and after his customary appearance on “Coach’s Corner”, Don Cherry (with permission, obviously) stopped the game in the third period, I think it was, and led a cheer from the stands for the armed forces on hand, while also thanking the Leafs for hosting the evening.  Fans in the building gave another nice cheer (as they had earlier in the evening), and players on each team stood and acknowledged the military men and women on hand by tapping their sticks on the boards.

It was a nice moment, for sure.

Now, fast forward to the moment I referred to above.  Don is making his final “comment” of the evening.  He again salutes the Leafs for doing a great job hosting the armed forces and celebrating their (the troops, not MLSE) remarkable efforts on behalf of all Canadians.  He then closes by verbally tipping his hat to Maple Leaf assistant coach Rob Zettler, as Don put it, “a good Canadian boy” who applauded during Cherry’s live announcement, along with the fans and the players from both teams.

Don then went on to add, very quickly but quite intentionally, that (and I am not quoting directly- someone may have the footage on tape and can provide the accurate statement) the other Leaf coaches “couldn’t have cared less” about the announcement and didn’t even bother to applaud to acknowledge the troops.

We all know about Don’s outward and very public support of Canadian troops over the years, and for all those policeman and firefighters who are out there there to serve and protect the rest of us in the line of duty.  He has also at various times poked at Ron Wilson (as I have in this space over the years, and I believe fairly so) for what Don, at least in the past, perceived as a somewhat arrogant attitude on Wilson’s part.  (He occasionally disagrees with Wilson’s coaching tactics and personnel decisions, too, but that’s a debate for another day…)

But here’s my question:  do you agree with Cherry?  Do you believe the Leaf coaches who did not applaud (if they in fact did not, I can’t verify…I wasn’t on hand and I don't know for certain) were in effect slighting the troops?  Was it disrespectful, even if it was un-intentional?

Here’s the thing.  You have to believe Wilson and his staff, at that point in a still close game (I think the Leafs were down 2-0 to the Rangers at that point) were focused first and foremost (and only, frankly) on how they could get the guys going to get back in the game.  As a coach, you have tons of stuff on your mind in the middle of a close game.

But that all said, was Cherry on to something?

He made a point of mentioning Zettler’s Canadian nationality, didn’t he?  We all know the Leafs are pretty top-heavy, organizationally and in terms of their coaching staff, with Americans.  I don’t know if this troubles Cherry, or any of you.  I don’t particularly care, to be honest, though I will say this:  I’m not sure if I would be one hundred per cent thrilled if the entire playing roster was made up of Americans or Europeans.

I don’t know if that makes me narrow-minded, biased or just wrong-headed.  By the way, as many of you will know, two of my favorite Leafs are Kulemin and Gunnarsson.  I’m just not sure I’d be excited if there were no Canadians on the team at all, given the club’s history as a Canadian-based franchise- and one with proud roots in this country.   After all, the team’s important legacy was built on the skill and efforts of great players like Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Johnny Bower (shown at left in early 1960s action against the Rangers at the old Madison Square Garden), Tim Horton, Dickie Duff and George Armstrong (who was a Native Canadian, as I recall).

There is no question that, for example, Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom were pioneers and triggered, at least in Toronto, a wave of future Europeans who graced the blue and white uniform and only enhanced the organization’s great hockey heritage.  And some fine American players have worn the blue and white colors proudly as well (Ed Olczyk, among others, jumps to mind…heck, Ron Wilson himself played for the Leafs in 1979 or thereabouts).  And that’s how it should be, a wonderful mix of the best players available—from everywhere. 

I’d just like to ensure that there is also room in Toronto for some Canadian players as well, I suppose.  That’s just how I feel.  Not to the exclusion of opportunities for others, just as part of the Leaf tradition in Canada.

But I am digressing somewhat.  The real question today is, how do you feel about Cherry’s comment at the end of the Leaf game on Saturday night?  Was he right on?  Was he off-base?  Did you agree with him or not?  Was it unfair of him to expect the coaches to stop what they were doing and applaud the troops?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


  1. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 15, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    Mike, the feud between Cherry and Wilson is well documented. I think that Cherry is nitpicking. Who knows what was going on in the coaching staff minds at the moment? I doubt very much that Wilson meant to be disrespectful to the troops because they weren't the American troops. That would be completely foolish since Wilson's family is Canadian, and he has dual citizenship.

  2. If true and I don't know if it is, I'm kinda torn about the whole thing. On one hand it's Cherry and I rarely if ever listen to the old blowhard. About the only thing I agree with him on is his support for our troops. Regardless of whether you support the war or not (I do) the troops do an incredibly hard and dangerous job. They are only doing what thier political masters tell them to do. I happen to believe the Canadian armed forces did nothing but cover themselves with glory in this war. They did an extremely difficult job with skill and dedication.

    That being said I fail to see how anyone can take two minutes of thier time to show some appreciation for our soldiers. I don't care what the coaches are doing or what the score of the GAME is. There are much more important things going on in this crazy dangerous world than the outcome of a hockey game. In the end the only reason we can even enjoy the game is because of other people such as our soldiers and police officers risking thier lives to keep my family safe. If the coaching staff of the Leafs didn't acknowledge such a moment, it is to thier shame. I hope it isn't true because as much as I am not a Ron Wilson fan I would at least hope he is a better man than that, and I think he is.

    As for the nationality of the front office and players I could care less if they hired a bunch space aliens. I just want the best players and management period. I just want to see a cup win for the Leafs before my kids have kids (hopefully twenty years or so, which gives them a fairly large window).

  3. Canadian or American, it makes no difference. They both fight along side each other in times of chaos to defend the freedom of North American's, and other countries. I doubt Wilson or anyone else on the bench would have a problem showing support for troops regardless which flag they fight under.

    I wasn't on hand, nor could we see the coaches on TV at the time. As mentioned, the players stood and banged their sticks with the coaching staff behind them so I wonder how Cherry saw the coaches.

    The problem was Cherry interrupting a game at a crucial time to acknowledge the troops in house again. It delayed the game and gave a break to action. It was essential like a free Time Out which would have bothered me as a coach. If Cherry wanted to acknowledge the troops in person, it would have been best done prior to puck drop for the 3rd period.

    Respect the troops, respect the game, and respect the players.

  4. Very nice post Michael...

    I have a somewhat different take on the whole evening. I used to like Don when he talked hockey--even liked watching his grapevine show on TSN in the old days--that's when he talked about hockey.

    Anyway, about last night, I thought it was a brilliant tribute and salute to the troops at the start of the game. ALL the players, coaches, fans, and TV audience respectfully watched and enjoyed and admired. Those 10 minutes or so were all about the troops. Don coming on the Jumbotron (permission or not) was about Don and he made it even more about himself with his postgame comments. He could've done that from the booth if he wanted, but you could see him come out and pose with fans and showboat. Don stole the spotlight from the troops...his 3rd period appearance was completely unnecessary.

    I was grateful on my own to MLSE for their support of the armed forces--I don't need Don Cherry telling me I should be grateful. Good for Rob Zettler to applaud when he did, but as mentioned before, ALL were observant and respectful in the real ceremony at the start, if not for Don's little sideshow (and many are aware that the American Brian Burke and his staff often visit our troops in Kandahar, nationality has nothing to do with this). Don's upset that they didn't applaud HIM...suck it up Don--you have enough fans--the whole world doesn't need to love you.

    Dying for a Cup in TO.

  5. Excellent post Anon, thank you!

    Long Suffering- thanks for taking the time to post on this one. I hear you about Don and Wilson. The "history" seems to be with Don alone. And you're right about Wilson- his is a family history linked to Canada and the United States.

    Very well said, Wilbur. There aren't many things that come to mind that are more important than the contribution that our armed forces make for and on behalf of the rest of us. So taking the time to highlight their courage seems only fair- including during a hockey game...

    And I respect your point on the nationality of the players and front office. As I mentioned in my piece, I guess I'm someone who would always like to see some Canadians playing for the Leafs.

    You raise several good points, Skill2Envy. Canadian or American, support for troops and what they do to preserve safety and freedom for others crosses all boundaries. And as Anon mentioned, the start of the game "festivities" made the point. Perhaps, as you said, stopping the flow of the game (when it could have been done before the start of the third period, for example) wasn't the best timing. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  6. Bang on Anonymous! I also thought at the time that it was quite unnecessary given the great pregame tribute.

    As far as Wilson and other coaches not applauding, I assume this was a normal TV timeout and they were involved in their usual game oriented use of this time. They may have been unaware of the intention to showcase Cherry and just blocked out the usual distractions going on at the ACC during the TV timeouts.

    As far as having Canadians on the Leafs is concerned, I think this begins to sound like the Habs fans "needing" French Canadian players because they have been historically important to them.
    Great Leaf teams of the past were certainly built on Canadian players but really there wasn't much other choice back then was there? I'm in the camp of wanting the best players and a successful team. Having said that, I can't really picture such a team without ANY Canadian players on it.

    Fans of the big name English Premier League teams don't seem to care about foreign players and ownership! But then again, they are the successful teams too!

  7. Thanks Ed. That's what I'm looking for today: real opinions.

  8. I agree with Anon and Ed. Cherry's applause moment was all about him - it had nothing to do with showing appreciation to the troops, which had been done fittingly and movingly at the beginning of the game. Why Cherry felt he had to try and steal the spotlight is beyond me - though I think you spell it EGO - and then trying to spin it into a controversy about the Leafs coaching staff is despicable. It's been a long way down for Cherry - I never watch his segments, and I hope they turf him asap.
    As for who's on the team? I want the best team possible. It's late in the day to be worrying about the nationalities of the players. If the NHL deems itself the premier hockey league in the world, then it has to have the premier players. Having said that, I'd bet my last dollar that there will always be Canadian representation on every team.

  9. It is hard to imagine that any team would be Canadian free. Canadians still dominate the NHL still (numbers, not skill) and every team has at least three (proof to follow) or more.
    ANA - Getzlaf, Perry, Fowler
    BOS - Bergeron, Seguin, Peverley
    BUF - Roy, Pominville, Boyes
    CGY - Iginla, Cammy, Morrison
    CAR - Staal, Ward, Skinner
    CHI - Toews, Keith, Seabrook
    COL - Duchene, Stastny, Winnik
    CBJ - Mason, Nash, Carter
    DAL - Benn, Ott, Morrow
    DET - Bertuzzi, Cleary, Eaves
    EDM -Hall, RNH, Smyth
    FLA - Versteeg, Weiss, Campbell
    LA - Doughty, Richards, Penner
    MIN - Heatley, Harding, Clutterbuck
    MTL - Subban, Price, Bourque
    NSH - Weber, Fisher, Tootoo
    NJ - Brodeur, Clarkson, Zajac
    NYI - Tavarse, Moulson, Bailey
    NYR - Richards, Staal, Del Zotto
    OTT - Spezza, Konopka, Greening
    PHI - Pronger, Giroux, Hartnell
    PHX - Doan, Langkow, Aucoin
    PIT - Crosby, Neal, Fleury
    SJS - Thornton, Clowe, Couture
    STL - MacDonald, Steen, Coco
    TB - Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier
    TOR - Lupul, Schenn, Phaneuf
    VAN - Loungo, Hamhuis, Burrows
    WSH - Green, Laich, Alzner
    WPG - Ladd, Kane, Mason

    Most team actually have at least 5 Canadians when I did a roster sweep.

    As far as the Leafs go, I am more concerned about the team winning a Cup and less about who makes up the Cup hoisters. Like I said, it would be very hard to eliminate Canadians completely from a team, the players regardless of nationality play for the city and fans in the NHL, and not their country.

    Someone like Cherry would comment about the lack of Canadians wherever the team played poor but I doubt we would hear much if they lifted the Cup.

  10. Michael, just a test comment. I'm having trouble signing in. Delete it if it goes through.

  11. Well said, Gerund O'....I guess we can never know for sure what is sincere or not, but you, Ed and Anon are likely not alone in thinking the third period "announcement" was more about Don than the troops...

    And great list, Skill2Envy...provides some context regarding rosters. Again, I admit I am one of those who would always like to see a solid core of Canadian talent as part of the Leafs.

  12. I was trying to hold back comment on this one, but I'm just tired of it. I lived and studied in the States for 7 years, and one of the reasons I would never live there again is the purposeful fetishization of the military by those who profit from supplying it, so that the military and it's grossly crippling budget can never, ever be criticized in any way, even if the whole country goes down the tubes because they can't adjust their budget.
    This is what Cherry is aiming for, even if he doesn't realize it. It seems every day I'm confronted with someone or something making sure I'm "supporting the troops" properly or "honouring the troops" or encouraging me to buy a car so I can put a made-in-China ribbon on the back.
    My idea of supporting the troops is making sure they are paid fairly with the proper benefits and comprehensive after-action supports. It means not asking them to take a pounding in the middle of a unending sectarian war with no foreseeable finish, where you have a good chance of being shot at or bombed by friendly fire. It most definitely means never, ever asking them to (or tolerating them) participating in or enabling torture in any way. It means preserving as much of the highly precious good will Canadian forces have around the world with everything we can.
    It does not mean kowtowing to Cherry's little cult unswervingly, and it certainly doesn't mean allowing a situation where we lose our perspective on our civilian-led armed forces and their place in Canadian life.
    I like Luke's initiative, and I like knowing serving armed forces are getting a chance to see a Leafs game live, but if I were Luke, I would have asked Cherry to zip it a bit and let the act stand by it's dignified itself instead of attempting to turn it into a dividing line circus between those who are with him and those who are against him.
    Cherry is running dangerously low on what remaining capacity I have to put up with his act. His actions are actually backfiring, because he has no sense of what it means to simply admire things for what they are, and instead constantly tries to turn his issues into divisions.
    To any armed forces, I would ask you- is what Cherry doing how you want our forces to be treated? Without constructive criticism or a sense of proper belonging to Canadian life? Do you want to be worshiped? Because that's a high pedestal to fall from.
    As Ace said so well, why doesn't Cherry ever give time and support to all the other equally worthy Canadian occupations?

  13. KidK...I just wanted to confirm I received your comment. I can see that it is a sincere, thought-out and heartfelt comment and so I want to let it stand on its own, without adding anything.

  14. Re: Canadian players... Living in Windsor and being a Wings fan, I know a person who always argues that I should be a fan of the Leafs instead since they're the closest Canadian team (four hours away). Yet I can see Joe Louis Arena from downtown Windsor and can get there from my house faster than most people living in the Detroit area. Team allegiances are developed on many different criteria, including emotion, upbringing and location just to name a few.

    A quick look at shows that, including coach and GM and excluding players on IR, the Leafs have 14 Canadians and 8 Americans while the Wings have 9 Canadians and 5 Americans. Does this make the Leafs more "Canadian" than the Wings (14 vs 9) or does it make them more "American" than the Wings (8 vs 5)? It's an argument that never stops.

    In the end, the only thing that matters is the caliber of "your" team, regardless of where the players and management are from.

    I agree that I hope there are always Canadians on every team, but I also believe that the best players are the ones that should be there regardless of nationality.

  15. Thanks Gene. Great post. It's a never-ending discussion, as you say. There are so many aspects to that "Canadian" discussion. One being, I guess, if you're a Leaf fan, come playoff time and your team is "out", should you feel obligated to cheer for another team in this country simply because they are based in Canada? What if they are located in Canada but don't have tons of Canadian players? Does it matter? Should it matter?

    And what about international competition? Like many people have posted today, when they cheer for a team, they don't care where the players are from. But when Canada plays Russia, for example, or the United States, people seem to care very much that Canada wins. Then "being Canadian" does matter, seemingly very much.

    I guess I'll save that topic for another day!