Friday, September 17, 2004

A much noticed absence explained (finally)

The recently completed World Cup of Hockey featured some bad hockey and some great hockey, some incredible performances and some going through the motions exhibitions. But the one thing it didn’t feature was Donald S. Cherry.

Night after night, Ron McLean would sit on the set with Brian Burke and Kelly Hrudey by his side, no mention made of Cherry, and no explanation why the national icon would miss out on this much anticipated tournament. More importantly why he would miss out on the last bit of televised hockey for who knows how long.

And why was Grapes missing, well, it turns out he wasn’t invited! The folks at the CBC decided to treat the World Cup quite differently from the regular Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. No Coach’s corner, No Satellite Hot Stove. And so Cherry was left to watch the series alone at his home, he, his dog and a few pops. The first time in 24 years that Cherry has missed attending a pivotal moment in Canadian hockey.

Cherry appeared on Toronto’s Fan 590 radio on Wednesday, finally breaking his silence to explain why he was left off the broadcast team and it doesn’t appear that he was overly happy with the decision. No reason other than trying something new was ever given, but one wonders that if the CBC worried about recent statements by Liza Frullo, the Heritage Minister. The minister issued a public warning that she would be keeping her eye on Mr. Cherry, perhaps that much pressure from the money train spooked the executives just a little bit. With so many “foreign” players in a line up each night, perhaps the CBC had horrific visions of political incorrectness running amok on a nightly basis.

Ron McLean made a carefully worded reproach to the CBC management at the end of the tournament, when he pulled out a Dr. Seuss style hat and stated that Hockey Night wasn’t the same with Cherry. For many that may have been the first indication that something had gone amiss at the Hockey Night in Canada family.

With Hockey finished for the foreseeable future we may have seen the last of Donald S. Cherry. If so; this was no way for a warrior to leave the scene. He always attracted his share of controversy, with reaction split between those that detested his every word and those that would hang on each one. Beyond that debate though, one thing was certain, when Cherry was on the television the ratings went up.

His coach’s corner feature attracted huge audiences for the CBC, bringing much revenue to the coffers of the television network. As the suits cash their paycheques at the Mother Corporation every two weeks, they should keep in mind a lot of their payroll came out of the mouth of Don Cherry. Not to mention the public outcry the last time they tried to censure him.

There has always been a debate within the CBC about whether they should even have hockey, let alone taint it with it the likes of Cherry on the publicly funded, overly politically correct network. With hockey and Cherry gone from the scene they are going to find that their revenues are about to take a sizeable drop.

The voice that courted controversy from time to time, put an awful lot of money into the programming pool at the CBC over the years. The folks that called for his expulsion over the years, may find that they miss both hockey and Cherry more than they may have ever imagined.

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