Time for Don Cherry to retire

Really, could there be a more fitting time for Don Cherry, the hockey media’s most notorious and self-righteous loudmouth, to make his exit?

After all, June 4, 2008 will always be remembered as the date when the Detroit Red Wings became the first NHL team to win a Stanley Cup under the leadership of a European-born, European-trained captain in Nicklas Lidstrom.

When the Conn Smythe Trophy was captured by Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden’s successor to Peter Forsberg, who led the playoffs this year in goals and points and scored the Cup winner in a 3-2 victory over Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

When the Wings celebrated a championship for the fourth time since 1997 and seven Swedes, two Czechs, a Russian, and a Finn hoisted the coveted silver mug.

Yes, it’s time for Don Cherry to call it quits at age 74.

Since 1981, the former Boston Bruins coach and longtime minor league defenseman has had more than enough time to air his myopic views on how hockey should be played on Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada. Notwithstanding the fact that Canada has produced outstandingly skilled players like Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, and Guy Lafleur, Cherry has always done his best, first and foremost, to trumpet Canadian power forwards (or, in some cases, flat-out goons) whose approach toward hockey consists of scaring the other team into submission.

Case in point: right up until the bitter end this year, Cherry was busy heralding 42-year-old Gary Roberts of North York, Ontario, with his stiff-legged, zombie-hit-you-from-behind style and ability to dump the puck out of his own end, while dumping on 21-year-old Evgeni Malkin of Magnitogorsk, Russia, who racked up 22 points in Pittsburgh’s run to the finals and is a Hart Trophy candidate.

Does Roberts deserve credit for staying fit enough to play in the NHL at his advanced age? Yes. Did Malkin underachieve in the finals–despite setting up Petr Sykora’s OT winner in Game Five and delivering a goal and an assist in Game Six? Yes.

Otherwise, Cherry’s incessant touting of Roberts was ridiculous. And without Malkin’s excellence in earlier rounds, the Penguins wouldn’t have made the finals.

By rights, considering how blatantly Cherry pats himself on the back whenever he happens to make a correct prediction, he should be taken to task about his persistent anti-European bias now.

Back in the 1980’s, co-host Ron MacLean might have said: “So Don, Detroit just won the Cup with a team full of Europeans, including their key players at every position, with the exception of Chris Osgood in goal. How do you account for this, considering that you’ve been telling us for years that Europeans are floaters who vanish in the playoffs?” (Nowadays, however, MacLean is more of a facilitator and prompter for Cherry than a “Crossfire”-style debating opponent.)

Dallas Drake, one of the hardest-nosed Canadians on the Wings, told the Globe and Mail after Detroit’s Game Six victory: “Nicklas Lidstrom is the best player in the world and we’ve got the other two guys named Datsyuk and Zetterberg who aren’t bad either. So it’s totally a myth. We proved that wrong this year. I think we realize how bad these guys want to win.”

Plenty of great Canadian players will hoist the Cup in years to come. By no means does Detroit’s 2008 victory take anything away from the legacy Canada has built and continues to build in the NHL. But it does conclusively demonstrate that hockey-playing excellence is not exclusive to the country where the sport was invented.

Step aside, Don, and hand your pulpit over to someone with something fresh to say, someone who can recognize the realities of 21st-century hockey. It’s time.

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