Don Cherry talks about the original IceDogs, the Memorial Cup coming to Mississauga, the Toronto Maple Leafs, his picks for 2011 Stanley Cup and his friend Hazel McCallion. Words by Perry Lefko
In the heart of Mississauga resides arguably the most knowledgeable and certainly the most controversial expert in all of hockey.
Don Cherry stars in the most potent 10 minutes of television in Canada and when he’s not on Coach’s Corner during CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, he could be on radio with Brian Williams for their long-running program, Grapeline, or pitching Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em hockey videos or just watching hockey games. Cherry was also a hockey team owner and coach in Mississauga in 1998, when he founded the Ice Dogs, a new Junior A franchise. The Ice Dogs have since been sold and replaced by the St. Michael’s Majors.
Mississauga Life: What will it mean to you to see the Memorial Cup come to Mississauga?
Don Cherry: A lot of pain. I say a lot of pain because when we started out, the rink wasn’t finished in time. We had to play our first nine games on the road. We were a new team, we were a month late in getting our money in to the league, we had second-round draft choices and the Brampton Battalion (the other expansion franchise) had all the first-round draft choices. We had everything working against us and we got our brains pounded out, but in the process we got first-round picks such as (Patrick) O’Sullivan, (Robbie) Schremp. The last year I was there, we had six eligible guys and they were all drafted into the NHL. That was the best in the Canadian Hockey League and all of junior in the whole world. We did very well, but we got our brains pounded out for an awful long time.
Mississauga Life: And you coached the team for a year. What was that like?
Don Cherry: It was absolutely hard on me. You wouldn’t believe how hard. I was doing five radio shows, I had Hockey Night In Canada, I had my restaurants and I was trying to coach and scout at the same time. I’ll sum the whole thing about how tough it was: the last game of the season I said to the players, ‘Okay, guys, the fans have been good to us and we’re going to sign autographs for them.’ So they all lined up and the players all signed and I was the last guy signing and some lady and gentleman – the very last ones that came – took their tickets and ripped them and threw them in my face and said, ‘You promised us the playoffs.’ I sat there with the tickets all over my face. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Mississauga Life: You’ve been critical of the Toronto Maple Leafs, can you see when that franchise will be turned around and even win the Stanley Cup?
Don Cherry: I don’t know about a Stanley Cup, but I see them in a couple years being a contender for the playoffs. I would settle for the playoffs. And look at this goalie (James) Reimer kid, who toiled in the minors and they get this (Jonas) Gustavsson, who’s supposed to be a world beater and Reimer sits there and watches guys going up and down, and the only reason Reimer was there was because (J.S.) Giguere hurt his groin. I think if they start getting some character guys in there like Reimer instead of trying to force feed guys from overseas and stuff like that and college hockey players, I think they’ll eventually wake up. Let’s just make the playoffs. I’d be happy with that.
Mississauga Life: Who do you think will do well in the playoffs and can you pick a team at this point that will win the Cup?
Don Cherry: Vancouver never seems to lose and they’ve got everything going for them. As long as they don’t get any injuries they’ll be our best Canadian team. I know everybody’s going to laugh when I say I like Tampa. But I like (goalie) Dwayne Roloson. I’m going to say they’re going to do well in the playoffs and I’m going to go out on a limb on that one.
Mississauga Life: Is Mississauga a hockey city?
Don Cherry: It’s tough being a hockey city and I’ll tell you why. We don’t have regular radio, we don’t have a television station like in London (that reports regularly on the team) and it’s tough to tell when the games are. You can have the greatest p.r. guy in the world, but if you don’t have a paper every day – and I’m not knocking Mississauga, please – it’s tough. That’s the problem I found. But maybe with the Memorial Cup coming here, people will be more aware. I’ll tell you one thing: They’re never, ever, ever going to get a better arena than that Hershey Arena. Never.
Mississauga Life: Why have you chosen to live in Mississauga?
Don Cherry: A good friend of mine, Jack Stanfield, came from Mississauga. He used to talk about Mississauga all the time. I remember reading when I was down in the States about Hurricane Hazel McCallion. I always admired Hazel before I even came here. I just like Mississauga. It’s close to downtown, close to the airport. It’s a great city.
Mississauga Life: Hazel McCallion played professional women’s hockey a long, long time ago and still laces ‘em up from time to time. Have you seen her play hockey?
Don Cherry: Yeah, I have. I’ve skated with her and she’s still skating. I’ll tell you a funny story: I won’t tell you the guy’s name, but when she went out and skated in the warmup for the Mississauga IceDogs, they were afraid somebody would get hurt and I said, ‘No, she won’t hurt anybody.’