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Don Cherry

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Don Cherry's Hockey Greats and More

Scotty Bowman is the winningest coach of all time. He has over 1,200 wins in the NHL, he’s won nine Stanley Cups as a coach and a total of 14 Stanley Cups as a coach and executive. He’s the only coach to win the Cup with three different teams, and he won the Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year twice.

Of course, I was coaching the Bruins and Scotty was coaching the Canadiens when we met in the Stanley Cup final in 1977 and ’78. In 1977, we lost to them four games straight. In ’78, we lost in six games. We met again in the ’79 semifinals, and we were ready this time. Both teams knew whoever won this series was a shoo-in to win the Cup because they would meet the winner of the New York Rangers–New York Islanders series. Neither the Bruins nor Montreal had had a problem with either of those teams in the regular season.
Just before the series, one of our defencemen, Mike Milbury, who now does a great job on the NBC telecasts, was asked what he thought about playing Montreal for the third time in a row. Mike said, “Well, the first time we played them in the finals, we were maybe a little happy just to be in the finals and gave them too much respect. The next year, we were a little more familiar with them and now we knew this guy is a little bit of a backstabber and this guy a little shy in the corner. Now, this time we can’t stand the SOBs.”

After our morning skate in the Forum, Mike was on the bench, looking up at all of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup banners. One of the Montreal press corps asked Mike if he was in awe of all the historical banners hanging from the rafters. Mike said, “No, I was just thinking how chintzy they looked.”

That was our mentality during this series.

During that series, Scotty and I were going at it in the newspa­per. I remember saying, “I can’t believe I’m getting beaten by a guy who wears brown Wallabees with a blue suit.”

Before we taped the Grapevine show with Scotty, I was wearing a really loud suit. Executive producer Ralph Mellanby said maybe I should wear something a little tamer. For the show, I wore a really sharp maroon jacket with a great polka dot tie. When Scotty came out for the show, he was wearing a tux and a bow tie.

Don: Where are your brown Wallabees?

Scotty: Well, I’m the best-dressed coached now. No, those shoes were from Finland—they weren’t those Hush Puppies.

Don: Remember the 1979 semifinals when I put too many men on the ice?

Scotty: Oh, yes, I think I remember. That was in the playoffs, wasn’t it?
Don: No, seriously, did you see right off the bat there were too many? Truthfully, did you notice it?

Scotty: I was so excited I couldn’t even count to six myself. One of the players yelled there were seven guys on the ice. So we started yelling at the linesman, and of course, I think it was John D’Amico called the penalty. I felt bad about it. But I was hoping we’d score, though, and I wanted to tie the game up.

Don: Sure, you felt sorry for, what, five seconds?

Like I said, Scotty and I were at war in the press. The day after the games, Scotty would call the press into his office and show videos of all the penalties (or what he thought were penalties) that the refs didn’t call. Then the press came running over to me to tell me what Scotty said. I was saying the refs and NHL wanted a Montreal–New York final for TV ratings.

We went back and forth like that the entire series. The NHL was not too happy, but the press and the fans loved it. Back then, during the playoffs, Hockey Night in Canada broadcast the games and WSBK TV38 in Boston picked up the feed. I started saying that Hockey Night in Canada was biased and was pro-Montreal. I wasn’t kidding. When Stan Jonathan and Pierre Bouchard went at it, they didn’t show a replay. I knew that Hockey Night in Canada didn’t show replays of fights, but I said the reason they didn’t show that replay was because it was a Bruin beating up on a Canadien.

The Boston press and fans went nuts protesting Hockey Night in Canada’s treatment of the Bruins on their broadcast. A few games later, Mario Tremblay and Bobby Schmautz got into a fight and Mario cut Schmautzy. I left the bench in the middle of the game and ran into the control room where executive producer Ralph Mellanby was and said, “You didn’t show a replay of the Jonathan fight—you better not show this one.”
I think Ralph thought I was crazy.

I also noticed something else that seemed to have Hockey Night in Canada on Montreal’s side.

Don: In Montreal, you were always looking for an edge. I know for a fact that you went to Hockey Night in Canada when we were playing you and said, “Look, when Guy Lafleur is tired and wants a rest, I’ll adjust my tie and you go to commercial.” Why is it that you want the edge over everybody?

Scotty: We had it figured out that every time we got a power play or a penalty situation, we wanted a rest. We didn’t tell them when to call for a commercial. We just said, “When the other team gets a penalty, we’d like to get a rested power play.” I guess the guy was a good hockey fan and maybe a Canadiens fan . . .

Don: You and I had a thing going in the papers that series. After the series, John Ziegler (the president of the NHL at the time) sent me a letter and it said, “Don, I want to congratu­late you, the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens on a stir­ring and unforgettable series. So it’s with deep regret that I’m fining you $1,000.” Did you get that letter?

Scotty: For us going back and forth in the press? Yes, I got one, but it was “Congratulations on a great series, I’m fining you $1,000.”

After that series, both Scotty and I left our teams. I always joke that I was fired because of the penalty for too many men and stuff like that, but the truth is that Harry Sinden and the Bruins did offer me a contract. But if I took it, I’d have to be more like man­agement—not be as friendly with the players and be less friendly with the press. I knew I couldn’t agree to that. I think Harry knew that as well, and I said no.
So, after five years in Boston with four straight first-place fin­ishes, two trips to the finals, two trips to the semifinals and a winning percentage of .636, I left and went to Colorado. Scotty had been with Montreal for eight years, and with six first-place finishes, four Stanley Cups and a winning percentage of .661, he went to Buffalo.
Don: Four Stanley Cups and you leave Montreal. Why?

Scotty: Like anything else, I think it was time to move on. What it came down to was I was going to have to report to Irving Grundman. Irving and I never had a problem—he never bothered me and I never bothered him and I respected him as a businessman. I would have reported to Jean Béliveau. Jean Béliveau was a hockey man. He was not high-profile with the team at the time, but I couldn’t get involved with someone who I didn’t respect as a hockey man. Like I said, I respected him as a businessman. It was time to move on. You had already gone to Colorado; I wasn’t going to have any more fun in Montreal, so time to go.

Don: Why didn’t you go two years earlier? I would have had two Cup rings.

Scotty is right when he said it was time to go. Coaches, no matter how good they are or how much they win, know there is a time to leave. I feel a coach starts to lose it when he’s with a club for five years. After that, I think the players start to tune him out. They know all his tricks, they’ve heard all the speeches, it starts to get a little tired. I had been with the Bruins for five years, I loved Boston and the players, but deep down I knew it was time to go, just like Scotty knew it was time to leave Montreal.
We taped this show in 1982, and it’s hard to believe that Scotty went on to win four more Stanley Cups.

I was an assistant coach to Scotty in the 1976 Canada Cup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this was the greatest team that was ever put together. We had six centres on the team: the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke, the Kings’ Marcel Dionne, Montreal’s Peter Mahovlich, the Sabres’ Gilbert Perreault, the Leafs’ Darryl Sittler, and Phil Esposito, who was in New York. Just those cen­tremen alone had combined for 614 points the year before. It was going to be hard for Scotty to keep everyone happy, and even though I interviewed Phil eight years after that series, he was still not happy.

Don: All right, Phil, let’s talk about ’76. I think that was one of the best teams ever put together, but I got to ask, what was the deal with you and Scotty?

Phil: Well, at the time I didn’t like Scotty Bowman and he didn’t like me. I don’t think he wanted me on the team, number one. I believe he was forced by either you or Alan Eagleson to have me on the team because of what I’d done in ’72, and I didn’t want any part of that. I wanted to make it on my own laurels and I thought I did. Playing with Bobby Hull was a natural because I played with Bobby for three years in Chicago and we fit together. Mr. Bowman wanted Marcel Dionne, he wanted speed demons.

The next year, when I interviewed Scotty, I asked about Phil.

Don: Scotty and I coached in the ’76 series, and when we were in Montreal, you told me that if you Don: It’s the Grapevine, go ahead.

Scotty: We were playing the Russians in Toronto, and we all decided that we wanted a little more speed on the team. Unfortunately, the trainer, through some error during a morning skate, gave Phil a black sweater. Phil went up to you and asked what the deal was and you said, “Better ask Scotty.”

Don: Yes, I can remember like yesterday, we were at the Toronto airport and Phil asked me what was going on. I told him, “Well, there’s Scotty. Ask him.” So Scotty comes walking down the hall and Phil goes up to him and gives it to Scotty pretty good.

Scotty and I had a laugh during the interview about that, but it wasn’t funny at the time. Scotty and Phil went at it pretty good. Phil was upset because a black sweater made him a “Black Ace,” which means you’re not playing. The Black Aces started with Eddie Shore in Springfield. When you were in the doghouse or weren’t playing, you practised in the black sweater. The reason it was black was that it hid the dirt better and Shore didn’t have to wash it as often. I was one of Shore’s Black Aces, and soon through­out hockey the black practice sweater was like a scarlet letter.
Scotty: There was Keith Allen, Don Cherry, Bobby Kromm, Al MacNeil, Sam Pollock, but if something went wrong, I was the guy that had to deal with it. The audience must know the famous goal that beat Czechoslovakia.

Don: I’m sure they [do,] but tell them again.

Scotty: Well, Don would come up to me before the game and say, “What do you want me to do tonight?” I’d say, “Go up to the box with Sam [Pollock] and keep Sam calm. If you got any messages, pass them down.” We got into overtime against Czechoslovakia in the finals and Al MacNeil was with you and Bobby Kromm was with me, and we get a message from Don that Czechoslovakia’s goalie, [Vladimír] Dzurilla, was really starting to come out. He was gambling. Don said, “If we get a chance, tell the guys to not just shoot, because they are not going to score. Just hold it and go wide.” Darryl Sittler came down the ice and the Czechoslovakia players came running out at him, Darryl went wide, and as soon as he put it in, we all looked at Don from the bench and started waving.

Don: Go figure. Harry fired me in Boston two years later.

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Don Cherry's Hockey Stories and Stuff

Toughest Guy
People always ask me who’s the toughest guy I ever played with or played against. When you spend your career in the minors, there are a lot of them. Connie “Mad Dog” Madigan. Sandy “Stone Face” Hucul and Bill “The Destroyer” Shvetz. I’ll talk about those guys later.

But I think the nastiest guy I ever saw was Larry “The Rock” Zeidel. He was from Montreal and I played with him in my second year in Hershey. I don’t know how he got to our club, but he got to our club and he was my partner, and I knew there was going to be problems. He said that when we set up behind the net, when he’s in one corner and I’m in the other and he’s got the puck, that we should holler plays like football. We should holler “X” or “Y” or “Z.”

I’m thinking, “Oh boy, this guy is really something.”

I remember when we were on the road and we got new gloves and Obie O’Brien, our captain, went to see a doctor in Cleveland, and while Obie was in there, all of a sudden, the bottles started to bounce all around in the doctor’s office. Larry was out in the waiting room and he was punchin’ the walls. He said, “Hey, we gotta break these gloves in.”

Eddie Shore
Eddie Shore, “The Edmonton Express” because he had played in Edmonton even though he was from Saskatchewan, was a mean, nasty guy who could take pain and he loved to dish it out. I think the more you hurt him, the better he liked it. And I know he liked to hurt the other guy.

He used to come out on the ice with a cape, if you can believe it. He thought he was Superman. He was a Saskatchewan boy and he started out as a bronco buster. He didn’t start skatin’ until it was kinda late, but once he took to it, look out!

He had more injuries, and was he tough! He played with stitches in his leg and when they broke open, he just kept on playin’. There was blood all over the place. One game, he had a broken jaw and a broken nose, lost some of his teeth and kept on playin’.

One practice, he almost lost his ear and the doctor wanted to cut it off. Eddie said, “There’s no way you're cuttin’ it off,” and he went and found a doctor who would work on it, and believe it or not, he didn’t take any painkillers or needles or anything.

He even put the needle where he wanted it and told the guy how to sew him up right. He knew everything. He really did. Even how to be a surgeon. He had everything down pat.
* * *

Shore thought he was a chiropractor, doctor, rocket scientist, everything. If you ever thought you had a headache or a cold or anythin’, he always thought it came from your neck, if you can believe it.

He did it to me once. He had monstrous hands for a little guy, and he’d grab your neck. He’d twist your neck and try to crack your neck. He’d holler, “Relax! Relax!”

How can you relax when he’s tryin’ to break your neck?

So we’re all in the dressing room waitin’ to go out one time, and some guy makes the mistake of saying he didn’t feel well, so Eddie goes and grabs the guy’s head and starts twistin’ it this way, twistin’ it that way, twistin’ it this way.

There was a guy named Dennis Olsen who really had a dry sense of humour and we’re all quiet, sittin’ there, and out of the blue sky, Dennis looks at Eddie and he says, “Eddie, can I ask you a question?”

Eddie just glares at him and says, “Yes.”

And Dennis says, “Did one of those ever come off in your hands?”

Eddie was not amused.

Brian Williams
It was January 4, 1987, and I get a call that I was supposed to go down to the CBC and help Brian Williams with the World Junior Championship. It wasn’t Hockey Night in Canada calling, it was CBC.

Well, I didn’t really want to go. I just didn’t feel like it.

The fact is, I had a hangover to start with. Besides, the NFL playoffs were on and I figure who the heck is going to be watching the CBC when the NFL playoffs are on?

Also, it was kinda dicey whether Canada would win, but if they won this game and the next game, they’d win the gold.

So the game’s going along pretty good and Canada’s winning, and it’s near the end of the first period. All of a sudden, I look up and all the Russians come on the ice. Well, everybody knows why the Russians come on the ice. They had no chance of winning the gold. Canada had a good chance.

The Russians watched to see if they were gonna get beat, and they were. The coach sent everybody on.

Well, the Canadian coach was Bert Templeton, and what’s he gonna do? Pat Burns was the assistant coach. What’s he gonna do? Are they gonna hold their guys there while twenty guys beat up six? So out they go.

It’s the first time in my life – and I’ve been through hockey for a million games – that I’ve seen every guy goin’ at it. I understand the Canadian trainer punched out their trainer. Even the backup goalies were goin’ at it.

And if you remember, they couldn’t stop it. The referees just skated off the ice.

Then they turned off the lights.

Brendan Shanahan told me after, “You should have seen what we were doin’ while the lights were out.”

So they finally get broke up and Brian Williams, who’s the host of the CBC show, comes on and says, “It’s a black mark. These boys have to learn that they can not be hoodlums.” And he’s goin’ on like that.

I understand that one of the team executives went in and gave it to them in the dressing room after, and the kids were crying. And I have to say that the three guys who were doin’ the broadcast and the colour didn’t stick up for them, either.

So I says, “What the hell? I’ve been on television long enough, I guess,” so I’m gonna go down swingin’.

So Brian’s goin’ on about it bein’ a black mark and a disgrace and I turned to him and said, “Look, if you don’t send those kids on the ice, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna let twenty Russians beat up six Canadians?”

I went on like that. I thought I was finished, ’cause you’re not supposed to say that kids should be sent out to beat up other kids and stuff like that. The CBC was a little touchy at the time.

When we went away for a break, I said, “Brian, if you say about these kids one more time that it’s a black mark against them – you say it one more time – and I’m gonna grab you right on television.”

He knew I was serious, so he moved his seat.

Mike Milbury
I see Mike Milbury on television on TSN. I see him on NBC. I see him on the Bruins’ TV broadcast. He has become Mr. Hockey on television in the States and now with CBC.

I wonder if he knows how close he came to not being involved in hockey, at least with the Boston Bruins.

In Rochester, when I was unemployed, I coached a high school hockey team. It was in Pittsford. Pittsford is a very rich little suburb on the outskirts of Rochester. They have a lot of money and I was unemployed, so I coached the high school. But I never got paid for it. Bob Clark, a lawyer and one-time part owner of the Rochester Americans, who was a good friend of mine who lived there, asked me if I’d coach the high school team, so I did.

While I was there, I had a young defenceman by the name of John Hoff, and he went on to play in the Ivy League at Colgate. He came back one summer, and I was coachin’ Boston by then. He was tellin’ me about playing at Colgate and said, “Boy, there’s a guy there you should get a look at. He’s a big, tough defenceman. He’s not bad. His name is Mike Milbury.”

Well, I forgot all about it.

The NHL teams always have a meeting in the summer and they go over who’s comin’ to training camp. We had about sixty guys comin’, and for some reason, I said to the head scout, John Carlton, “John, isn't there a guy who plays around here, plays for a college like Colgate or Cornell or somethin’? Mulberry or somethin’?”

“Mulberry?” he says. “I don’t know any Mulberrys. Oh, you mean Mike Milbury! Yeah, he’s not bad.”

“Okay,” says I, “put him down. Add him to the end of the list. We’ll give him a chance anyhow.”

So he was about the sixty-first. That’s how close he came to not comin’ to the Bruins.

Harry Sinden
One time we were flyin’ back from Atlanta. Harry wouldn’t get us a charter, so we had to get up at five in the morning and fly back, and we couldn’t land in Boston because there was a snowstorm. We had to fly on to Hartford and land there.

I’m often asked, “What was the scariest plane trip you’ve ever taken?”

Well, there has been a lot. I told you the story about the one into Chicago when we circled in the plane over Lake Michigan trying to get into Chicago O’Hare.

But I think the very worst was this one.

I’ll tell you, you couldn’t believe the snowstorm. You couldn’t see anythin’. We were bouncin’ all over and we were sittin’ at the back.

We really thought this was the biscuit. Some of the guys were really nervous. We thought we were gonna have it right there.

I said, “Well, guys, if we go down, we go down in first spot.”

There was a pause, and then Milbury said from the back, “Yeah, and with a game in hand.”

Everybody broke up at that one.

We finally landed in Hartford. We had to go and get cars, believe it or not. This is the National Hockey League and they didn’t have a bus waitin’ for us. We had to rent cars, take our equipment in the cars, get back and play the Canadiens, who had been in their beds while we were playin’ in Atlanta. That story is comin’ up.

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Don Cherry's Hockey Stories, Part 2

It’s June 2010—the Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. Ron MacLean and I have been goin’ since April 8, every other night for two months.
It’s not bad. The first two series we do out of the CBC studio in Toronto. For the semifinals and finals, we are on the road.
Our first night on the road, we’re in Philadelphia. Ron and I have a few too many pops, kind of deliberately. The playoffs remind me of when I played: you come to camp in good shape, but you all get together the first night and have a session. You’d be good all summer, and then just before camp, you ruin it.
So about ten the next morning, Ron and I are in this cab and we’re bakin’, it’s so hot. We’re in our shirts and ties because we always travel that way in the States. (People at airports think we’re detectives, as there’s usually an older cop and a young cop.) I always think my shirts look good, but they’re murder in the summer. The cab, as usual, is so small my legs are jammed up against the front seat. Why is every American cab dirty and small, with no air-conditioning and windows that don’t roll down? And, of course, I’m on the side where the sun shines through.
And the extra pops don’t help. When will we ever learn?
Folks, this is not the glamorous life everybody thinks it is. There are ticket lines at the airport. And security lines. The customs guys always seem to be ticked off about something. You get to the hotel and the rooms aren’t ready. Eventually, you unpack (I’ve got tons to unpack and Ron seems to have nothing).
So here I am, sittin’ in this hot cab, thinkin’ all these things and feelin’ sorry for myself. I look at Ron and he says, “Never mind. Just think of the twelve cold ones we’ll have on ice for after the game tonight.”
I do. Everything is right with the world.
* * *
Still in the finals. Now we’re into Chicago, and we land. We’re walking through the tunnel between O’Hare Airport and the airport hotel. As we walk along the tunnel—and we’re the only ones in it—we come to a guy with a little organ, and he’s singin’. He really sounds great.
Ron says, “Isn’t that guy a wonderful singer?” and before I can say anything, he has dropped a fiver into the guy’s hat.
I say, “You jerk. That guy’s not singing. It’s a record. That’s Sam Cooke singing. The guy is only lip-synching.”
Ron says, “You know, you’re too cynical. You should wake up to the world. There aren’t people like that. You couldn’t be more wrong.”
So about four days later, we’re on our way back. Same tunnel. Same guy. Now the guy is letting on he’s playing a violin. He sounds like Stratovarigus, or whatever his name is. I drop a fiver into his hat as a reward for being such a good con artist.
Ron gets taken every time. He never passes a guy who needs a handout, no matter what. But he definitely does get taken a lot.
For instance, we’re in Anaheim one night, and after a few pops in the bar, we’re walkin’ back to the hotel. This guy comes up to us and gives us this song and dance.
“Can you guys help me out? I’ve spent all my money on the bar, and now don’t have any money for a taxi to get home. I was wondering if you guys could help me because now I’m over the limit, and I don’t want to drive my car.”
Believe it or not, Ron bites on this one and gives the guy twenty-five bucks to get home.
I say, “Are you nuts?”
He answers, “Yes, I know. He could be lying. But what if it was true? I would never forgive myself, and I’d feel so guilty if he drove and hurt somebody.”
Hoo boy.
* * *
It’s in Philly, right between the fifth and sixth games. We go out to a bar.
Now, usually, we stay in Ron’s room at night and have a twelvepack on ice and watch TV and have a few munchies and cheese and we have a grand time. But we figured this series is going to wind up pretty soon, so the night before the sixth game, we go out to a bar for a little celebration. Believe it or not, the bartender knows all about my Bruins back when I was coachin’ them against Philly’s Broad Street Bullies. He knows everything.
I know he’s not a phony because he remembers the one game—the second game of the semifinals—that we were up 3–0 and we blew a three-goal lead, with Bobby Clarke tyin’ it up with two minutes to go. He has it all down, and he remembers how Terry O’Reilly got the winner for us in the second overtime.
Ron, who not only gives money to guys who drink too much, tips bartenders—and waitresses—like he’s paying off the national debt. This time, he tips the guy fifty bucks.
I say, “Hey, fifty bucks? What are you doing?”
He says, “Everybody’s gotta live.”
So on the way back to our hotel, we’re strollin’ along, feelin’ no pain, and we see a young guy who is really down on his luck, and he has a little dog on a piece of rope with him.
Ron says to me as we cross an intersection, “Doesn’t it break your heart to see a young fellow like that? And isn’t it wonderful how that dog loves him and sticks with him?”
So we’re halfway across the intersection by now, and I say, “Well, if you feel that way, why don’t you go back and help him out?”
I was just kiddin’. It was just a joke. He says, “I’ll do that,” and he goes back and says to the young fella. “Don’t take this the wrong way. I just want to help you out a little. I want to give you a little something to help you out, you and your dog.” And he slips him a fifty as well. What a guy! He falls for everything.

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Straight Up and Personal

Straight Up and Personal

The World According to Grapes
also available: Paperback
tagged : hockey
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