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TORONTO – For a generation, patriotic Canadian hockey fans have tuned in Saturday night to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s Hockey Night in Canada to watch bombastic co-host Don Cherry tell the nation that Russian hockey players are “quitters” and “chicken” Swedish and Finnish players won’t fight.
The result is Cherry’s first-intermission show, Coach’s Corner, is the highest-rated seven minutes on Canadian TV.
But times do change, and the CBC’s politically-incorrect TV pundit is suddenly way out of step with the CBC and the National Hockey League as they look to end headshots and fighting in professional hockey.
“Don’s comments reflect his own personal opinion,” Kirstine Stewart, the CBC’s executive vp of English services, said in a statement on the weekend after Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada called ex-NHL goons Stu Grimson, Jim Thomson and Chris Nilan “pukes” and “hypocrites” for now opposing fighting.
“While we support his right to voice that opinion, we do not share his position. Player safety is a top priority for CBC, and we support the initiatives of the NHL and others in keeping players safe on and off the ice,” Stewart continued.
Putting blue sky between Cherry and the CBC also follows the recent deaths of former NHL enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak after they battled drug dependence and depression.
Belak, 35, was recently found dead after committing suicide in a Toronto condo where he had been staying while rehearsing for the CBC’s Battle of the Blades reality competition series.
But all this talk about an NHL career as a hockey gladiator eventually driving grown men to drink and drugs and apparent suicide had Cherry lashing out.
“But the ones that I am really disgusted with—and I hate to say this when the kids are listening—with Georges Laraque said about … but the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. ‘Oh, they reason that they’re drinking drugs and alcoholic because they fight.’ You turncoats. You hypocrites. It’s one thing I’m not, it’s a hypocrite,” Cherry said on his Hockey Night in Canada between-periods segment.
The question now asked by the Canadian media is how Cherry can continue to take to the CBC to condone the NHL’s star players being left helpless and out cold on the ice after taking head shots when the public broadcaster is backing the league’s push to clean up the game so players can live long and healthy lives after retirement.
“… Going after Stu Grimson, Jim Thomson and Chris Nilan with a rant that was moronic even by his own gravel-brained standards, Cherry offered proof positive that he is long overdue for a nice spot in front of the fireplace – and away from the microphone,” columnist Jack Todd wrote Monday in the Montreal Gazette newspaper.
But TV sports media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin in the Globe and Mail newspaper said the CBC will have second thoughts about jettisoning Cherry, given the ad revenue the public broadcaster secures from top-rated Hockey Night in Canada telecasts.
“What remains clear is that Cherry’s financial impact on HNIC and CBC insulates him from the standards applied to everyone at the Corp this side of Rick Mercer. Unlike Mercer, however, Cherry’s heterodox schtick ceased being funny a long time ago,” Dowbiggin said.
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