Just as Mark Twain once said, the rumours of Don Cherry’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, 2020 will mark the 40th year of Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada.

“Forty years? No wonder they want to get me off,” joked Grapes.

Earlier this month, the question was in the air thanks to an item in award-winning sports columnist Steve Simmons’ popular Sunday column quoting sources that cost-cutting Rogers were undecided about bringing the coach back.

The news went viral. Cherry was not pleased.

“I was hurt,” Cherry told the Sun in an interview. “It takes a lot to hurt me now.”

That it was Simmons who reported it was like salt being rubbed in the wound.

“Steve Simmons, I really couldn’t believe it,” Cherry recalled. “He was one of the few guys I counted as a friend. And I knew him when he was 19. But Ralph Mellanby told me you have no friends in this business.”

Even though when you read it, Simmons was making the point Rogers should not go down such a road, Cherry said: “I didn’t take it that way and I don’t think anybody else did.”

Whatever it was, Grapes said, there was no truth to it.

“The ironic thing is the three bosses phoned me and said we can hardly wait until next year,” said Cherry. “If you notice on Coach’s corner — it’s the only thing on at the end of the first. There is nothing else.”

But could this be his last year?

“No, no,” said Grapes.

He said just look at “the trouble we had with just the hint of it being my last year.”


Don Cherry sits down with Joe Warmington for a summer coach’s corner on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Although he first appeared as an analyst for the 1980 NHL playoffs, this coming season will be his 39th doing Coach’s Corner — 33 of which have been with partner Ron MacLean.

When we were talking about Cherry’s longevity, we could not think of any TV show in Canada that has been on for almost four decades straight.

“I don’t think in American TV either,” said Cherry.

In Great Britain there’s “Coronation Street” but “they change (cast members) all the time. My wife watches it.”

There’s only one coach who has ever appeared on Coach’s Corner.

“Television people know,” he said of when it’s time to go. “You can’t be phony on TV. They can tell in a minute.”

In his case, it likely won’t be producers or media people deciding when that time comes for Cherry.

“The minute it is not fun for me anymore is when I will retire,” he said.

He is still having fun.

“It’s really good now,” he said of his relationship with producers, adding all three senior people calling him “made me feel good. It really did.”

That said, Cherry does acknowledge one can’t do TV forever.

“You have to realize in the business I am in. Once you are done, you are done. Two years from now they might say ‘didn’t you used to be Don Cherry?’”

As for Simmons sources?

“He thinks he’s right. Probably he was right. I mean 85? I remember when I was young if someone was 85 I thought the guy should be dead.”

In a special summer Coach’s Corner with the Sun, Don Cherry covers everything from the Stanley Cup finals to President Donald Trump!

On the 2019 Finals?

“I think Peter McNabb said it best, it was big boy hockey. St. Louis won because of the kid from Richmond Hill (Jordan) Binnington. He told me on the elevator ‘we are going to win it’ and they won it. And he’s the guy who won it. Ryan O’Reilly won MVP but I think a co-star was Binnington.”


The Leafs face red-hot goaltender Jordan Binnington and the St. Louis Blues Tuesday in St. Louis. (AP)

On last year’s contract holdout William Nylander wearing Eric Lindros’s 88 in 2019-20?

“I am impressed with Nylander changing his number. At least he cares.”


When Nazem Kadri was injured against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, William Nylander moved into his spot at centre. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

On this year’s contract dispute featuring Mitch Marner?

“He will be back, there’s no doubt about it. I think it’s because (Auston) Matthews got (a big contract) and he said ‘wait a minute I am the leading scorer.’ Marner thinks why shouldn’t he be paid like the leading scorer? That’s the way he feels.”


Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores a penalty on Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in the second period of Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

On calling the Carolina Hurricanes players a “bunch of jerks” for their after game tomfoolery?

“They acted like jerks but I should have said they acted like a bunch of jerks and not were a bunch of jerks,” said Cherry. “The PR guy got on it right away. I said it on the Saturday and by Sunday they had T-shirts made. But deep in their hearts they knew they shouldn’t be doing this. I have to laugh when people say it’s just young men expressing themselves. We are hockey. We don’t do that stuff. We get dressed up. We are not like basketball, football or baseball.”


Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Williams and Micheal Ferland drag Jordan Martinook from the ice following the team’s celebration following an NHL game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, March 1, 2019.

Gerry Broome /

AP

Any regrets not taking Boston Bruins call-up goaltender Dave Reece out of the net in 1976 on the night Darryl Sittler set the record with 10 points?

“None. Gerry Cheevers was just back from the WHA and there was no way he was going in.”

Cherry said Reece never forgave him: “He never played again. And he had a pretty good record. He could never understand how I left him in there? Sometimes you have to be cruel in this business.”


Goaltender Gerry Cheevers won Stanley Cups with Boston in 1970 and 1972. (NHLI via Getty Images)

Who is your favourite player in the NHL right now?

“Connor McDavid. I always tell the kids the player who scores goals drives a better car.”


Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during second period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on March 25, 2018.

Jason Franson /

CP

The Greatest player of all time?

“I have seen all of the greats and no one compares to Bobby Orr. No one. There were guys who could score more but they couldn’t do it all like he could.”

Cherry’s biggest regret in hockey?

“Seeing Bobby Orr leave the Boston Bruins to play for the Chicago Blackhawks for just 26 games before retiring because of a knee injury. He should never have left Boston. Never. I have never said that before but it wasn’t handled right. Orr would have played for a couple of more years had he stayed. He could still play. If you look at Chicago he still got the points (27 in 26 games). But he wasn’t Bobby Orr. He had 11 knee operations.”


Los Angeles Kings’ goalie Rogatien Vachon drop his stick but holds on to the puck as Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr (4) tries to score in the second period at the Boston Gardens, Jan. 13, 1972. (CP FILES)

Are you upset NBA playoff MVP Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors?

“No. He wanted to go home to his mother. And I don’t blame him at all. I had to laugh they were thinking he was staying here. There was no way he was staying here. This guy came in to win the championship and he won a championship.”

Did the hockey coach get caught up in Raptors fever?

“I watched a little bit of it — all you have to watch is the last three minutes and you know the whole game. You have to give it to (team president) Masai Ujiri. I don’t know much about basketball but I know one thing, he had a lot of guts to get rid of coach of the year and trade away a popular player. It worked.”


Kawhi Leonard watches as his game-winning ball goes in to clinch the series in Game 7 as the Toronto Raptors defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in Toronto, Ont. on Sunday May 13, 2019. Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia

What does Grapes think of NHL expansion to Seattle?

“I played in Seattle and it’s a good hockey town but I still think we should be in Quebec. I think of the rivalry between the Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens and there was no rivalry in the world like that.”

Who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

“Pat Verbeek and his 522 goals and Ricky Middleton and his almost 500 goals are the two who should be in.”

What about Paul Henderson?

“It should be automatic. It is ridiculous he’s not in. They put (Vladislav) Tretiak in who choked in the last four games of the (1972 Canada-Soviet Union Summit Series). All he had to do was win one game in four at home. Henderson scored seven goals and he doesn’t get in. To put him in now (when it is so long overdue) is the same as putting Pat Burns in after he was dead. Did his coaching improve after he was dead?”


Legendary Team Canada 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson poses with a print of “The Goal” at his Mississauga home on May 27, 2010. The jersey Henderson scored the 6th and winning goal against the Soviet netminder Vladislav Tretiak on Sept. 28 1972 at the Luzhniki Arena. The final score was Canada 6, USSR 5. Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

How about Don Cherry for the Hall of Fame?

“I’m like Dale Hunter. I’m not their type.”

What about being snubbed for the Order of Canada?

“I will never ever get the Order of Canada, Hockey Hall of Fame or any of that stuff. But the policemen like me, the soldiers like me and the firemen like me and that’s very important to me. Very important.”

On Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk?

“He is so easy to dislike. I remember when it all started — they had a scrum down by the glass and he said if the people don’t come out, how can I keep the franchise here? Makes sense to me. I feel sorry for Eugene. He is losing money and is hated.”

Do you ever see Ron MacLean in the summer?

“Never. I will see him the first Coach’s Corner. He travels in different circles than I do. And we don’t live far apart. He lives in the rich part. He’s a wine guy and I am beer guy. But there is nobody better than Ron. He’s the best. I never tell him that. I am always giving him a hard time. He has a different philosophy in life than I have. He’s pretty left-wing.”


Don Cherry and Ron MacLean in 2017. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN

Do you worry about criticism for sticking up for right-wing politicians?

“No. I like (President) Donald Trump and I make no bones about that. When the economy is the highest it’s ever been, and unemployment best ever, he must be doing something right.

As for Premier Doug Ford?

“He’s trying to do the same thing here for the economy Trump has for the United States. Doug Ford is terrific. He can do the job if they let him do the job.”

jwarmington@postmedia.com



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