A hockey fan’s open letter to Don Cherry

A Queen's student expresses his disappointment to the sports commentator

According to Jordan, hockey has outgrown Don Cherry.
Photo: 

Dear Don Cherry, 

It was a shame it had to come to an end like this. But now that the smoke has blown over a little, it’s time to ask how I, a hockey fan, will remember you. 

As long as I (and many hockey fans) can remember, you were the face of the Canadian institution called Hockey Night in Canada. For over 30 years, families, friends, colleagues, and bar-goers alike quieted down to hear what you had to say at the end of first period every Saturday night. You were a hockey evangelist preaching hockey’s good news and why the sport is important to our nation’s fabric. 

Your success on the ice as a one-time coach and off the ice as a broadcaster is unparalleled. Even those who don’t know anything about Gretzky or what an offside is knows who you are. They might not understand why you’re so important, but they know that you’re a Canadian icon. 

That’s why your comments on Nov. 9 were so disappointing. You’re someone who means so much to Canada’s game. I as both a hockey fan and a descendent of immigrants expected more from you. You not only othered groups from Canadian society, but you othered them from the game of hockey: a sport that’s already overwhelmingly made up of privileged white men.

However, I’ll admit that as a regular of your program, I was also not surprised. 

The last 10 years or so have been hard for you, both on and off camera. As a hockey icon, your age has caught up to you. As you’ve gotten older, it’s clear you’ve remained stuck in the past, refusing to see how hockey and Canada have changed. 

For those who are unfamiliar with how hockey was played in the 70s, when Cherry coached, some quick browsing would show you how the game was played then. That era of hockey was exemplified by the Philadelphia Flyers, known as the “Broad Street Bullies,” because of their aggressive playstyle and habit of injuring opposing players almost every game. 

Players were slower, less agile, and less skilled than they are today. Goalies’ equipment was smaller, making it more difficult for them to make saves. Today’s NHL relies more on skill than muscle. Players are rewarded for having the puck often and hitting those who do have it. 

Don, you tried hard to keep this tradition of aggressively physical hockey alive, but the game evolved—and you didn’t. 

When I started to watch hockey in the early 2010s, you were well into your mid-seventies. The game was moving faster than you could keep up with. The analysis just wasn’t there, and at some points, it was painful to watch you try to analyze a sport you could barely recognize.

Just as you tried to create an alternate reality of what “good hockey” looks like, you tried to create a phony reality of what a “good Canadian” or an “ideal Canadian” looks like. Sometimes, good hockey and being a good Canadian weren’t mutually exclusive, as shown through your comments calling Quebecois players “sissies” for wearing visors. Your patented label “good Canadian kid” only applied to those who played the way you saw as being organic to the sport. 

I, like many, thought you were invincible. I complained week after week these last few years about how you were losing your marbles and that you were a shadow of the icon you once were. I honestly thought you’d die on air, because I’ve never known a world of hockey without you. 

You had an idea of what hockey should look like based on your experience behind the bench in the 70s. You also had an idea of what Canada should look like from your experience as a privileged person in our society. But ultimately, your tragic flaw is that you were never willing to adjust. 

Whether you want it to or not, hockey has evolved and so has Canada. In the same way hockey has outgrown fighting and toughness, Canada has outgrown its past of ignorance and white supremacy. You served Canada and the hockey community well, but both the country and the game have outgrown you. 

Though you were a great advocate for the game on the ice, your comments made you a bad influence for the game off the ice.  

Stick to sports, Don. 

Best, 

A Hockey Fan 

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