While Saturday’s “Coach’s Corner” segment on “Hockey Night in Canada” signaled the end of host Don Cherry’s tenure, leading to his firing from Sportsnet on Monday, it wasn’t the first time that he has found himself in hot water.
Over four decades with HNIC, Cherry had become known for his flashy, abstract suits, outlandish opinions and controversial comments, surrounding topics from European players to on-ice celebrations to immigrants.
Here’s a brief history of just some of his controversial comments over his time on the CBC program.
MORE: Why was Don Cherry fired from Sportsnet?
Calling out European players
The longtime TV personality was known for controversial comments surrounding Russian players over the course of his broadcast career. That included during an intermission of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey game between Canada and Russia.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing how great they are,” Cherry yelled on TV. “They’re down 3-1. The fabulous five died. They sucked and they always have sucked.”
In another undated clip, Cherry can be seen calling Russian players “nothing” when mentioning how some say the Russians have “amazing upper body strength.”
“They’re nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Nothing,” Cherry said on air.
In 2018, he said that he believes European players should not be allowed to play in the CHL.
“I’m not happy for that, to be truthful. Here, yes, we’re a wonderful country and accept everybody here,” Cherry said at a 2018 CHL Showcase event, via Sportsnet. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing. No matter how you cut the mustard, I said this a long time ago, and we have it now in bantam, we have them coming over in bantams, if you can believe it. We have them in minor midget as I go all the time and they’re very rich when they come over and you’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in [the] Canadian Hockey League?’ No, I don’t.”
Cherry made it clear he was not a fan of exaggerated, staged celebrations from players. Over the course of his career, he criticized several given the way they’d let loose after goals, wins or milestones.
One of the first was Alex Ovechkin. A younger player at the time, Cherry was less than thrilled with the way the Russian winger presented himself with “goofy” celebrations.
“This guy, he’s got a free ride. . . I’m predicting someone’s gonna get him and someone’s gonna get him good,” Cherry said on Coach’s Corner of the Capitals captain, adding, “You don’t act like this. This is goofy stuff. … Don’t you Canadian kids act like it.”
Soon after, Cherry was back at it again, this time condemning Ovechkin’s “hot stick” celebration when he scored his 50th goal of the 2008-09 campaign.
“Guys right now got you on a list. You’re going to be very, very sorry because somebody’s going to cut you in half,” Cherry said on Coach’s Corner. “And I hope it doesn’t happen. … He’s going to get it and when he gets it, it’s going to be a goodie.”
More recently, Cherry’s comments about the Carolina Hurricanes’ “storm surge” celebrations became something of a team motto and tagline for the hockey club when he called them “a bunch of jerks” on the air. He also called Evgeny Kuznetsov a “jerk” for his “birdman” celebration, which the 26-year-old said he does for his daughter.
‘Why aren’t men in women’s dressing rooms?’
During the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, Cherry and Ron MacLean were discussing Duncan Keith’s comments toward a female reporter in which he dismissed her question by asking her if she was a referee. The comment was considered sexist by some and received backlash, leading Cherry to step up and say that women shouldn’t be allowed in NHL locker rooms or any male locker rooms at all.
“I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room. I remember the first time it happened to me. Guys are walking around naked, I hear this woman’s voice, I turn around, she’s asking me about the power play, I said let’s go outside. She said, ‘I’m not embarrassed.’ I said, ‘I am,'” Cherry said on an April 27, 2013 segment.
When MacLean argued back that there’s no reason female reporters shouldn’t receive equal opportunity, Cherry laughed.
“Equal opportunity? Then why aren’t men in women’s dressing rooms?” Cherry questioned.
MacLean welcomed the idea, to which Cherry gave him a hypothetical and asked how MacLean would feel if his wife, Cari, is in the locker room taking a shower and a reporter is standing there.
“I don’t feel women are equal. I feel they’re above us. I think they’re on a pedestal. They should not be walking in when naked guys are walking in,” Cherry said to end his rant.
On two occasions, Cherry has used the term “left-wing kooks” to describe some who disagree with his point of view.
In 2010, Cherry criticized newspapers that “ripped [him] to shreds” while attending an inaugural meeting of Toronto’s city council and discussing mayor Rob Ford.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks.”
Cherry used the term again in regards to David Suzuki, a Canadian environmentalist when debating climate change.
“David Suzuki, left-wing kook, you’re in Vancouver, it’s warm out there. Why don’t you come to Toronto, we’ve been freezing for two months. … What is this, warming trends? We’re all dying of cold, and he’s talking warming trend. What?” Cherry said in another “Coach’s Corner” segment.
First Nations natives
On Christmas Eve 2007, HNIC tension was high between MacLean and Cherry, who were going back and forth over Chris Simon and a 25-game suspension he received in December.
MacLean led with the fact that Simon, who is Ojibwa, believed that the suspension was unjust and that in a way, his upbringing could have had an effect on why he felt he was being treated unfairly.
“A lot of First Nations kids go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking they won’t get a fair shake,” MacLean said on the segment. “Until Chris accepts that he’s getting a fair shake, the message won’t sink in.”
That’s when Cherry chimed in.
“What? You’re saying that natives have an inferiority complex when something happens to them?” Cherry asked his co-host.
After MacLean responded that sometimes natives are not treated fairly, Cherry continued the debate.
“Fair shake in life? Go out and get your own fair shake in life and work for it. Don’t give me that stuff,” Cherry said back.
Reaction to Scott Sabourin injury
Just a week prior to his remarks about immigrants that led to his dismissal, Cherry had found himself under the microscope for his reaction and comments surrounding Scott Sabourin in a Nov. 2 game between the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins.
Sabourin had been going in for a hit on David Backes, whose head collided with his. The Senators forward then fell face-first into the ice, appearing to lose consciousness and lied motionless for several minutes before he was stretchered off and admitted to a local hospital.
After looking at the hit, Cherry mentioned on the air that Sabourin “just got knocked out, that’s all.” MacLean then mentioned that Sabourin was moving all of his extremities, and when Cherry asked for clarification, he then laughed.
On “Coach’s Corner,” Cherry was discussing Remembrance Day and how, living in Mississauga, Ont., and visiting downtown Toronto, he doesn’t see a lot of people wearing the poppy, a flower pin worn in the two weeks leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 to pay tribute to veterans and those who served in times of war.
Cherry then went on to say that it’s because immigrants are not buying enough poppies.
“You people, you love — they come here, whatever it is. You love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, the least you could pay [is] a couple of bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said during the segment. “These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys pay the biggest price.”
The comments led to backlash from several and calls — including trending Twitter hashtags — on Sportsnet to fire Cherry for his remarks.
In response, Ron MacLean apologized, and Sportsnet and the NHL also issued statements on the matter, condemning Cherry’s comments. However, Don Cherry did not apologize — and still hasn’t.
“I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers,” Cherry told the Toronto Sun on Monday, adding, “I speak the truth and I walk the walk. … I would have liked to continue doing Coach’s Corner. The problem is if I have to watch everything I say, it isn’t Coach’s Corner.”