What Happened to Don Cherry After He Lost His Job on ‘Hockey Night in Canada’?
If you’re an NHL fan, you know the name Don Cherry. Whether you loved him or hated him, Grapes was a fixture in the sports world; Saturday night wasn’t complete without listening to the latest segment of “Coach’s Corner” and hearing which good Canadian boy did something that Cherry felt deserved a thumbs up.
In November 2019, however, everything changed. After a Remembrance Day rant criticizing “you people” who didn’t wear poppies, Cherry lost his job on Hockey Night in Canada.
That change left a void in the world of hockey television and, even years later, has many wondering what happened to Don Cherry? Where is the hockey lifer now?
Don Cherry spent his life in and around professional hockey
While it may border on cliche to say that hockey is more than a game in Canada, there’s some truth to that statement. Don Cherry, for better or worse, used the sport to define his very existence.
Cherry got his start as a player and, while he had a lengthy career, he failed to make much of an impact on the ice. The majority of his games came at the AHL level, where he played over 750 games in the minors, but only made one brief appearance in the NHL.
Despite that reality, Grapes couldn’t leave hockey behind. After his time as a player ended, he stepped behind the bench as an AHL coach. He eventually made it to the NHL ranks and a total of six seasons with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies.
Cherry’s true impact on the hockey world, however, came through his television work. A color commentary gig gave way to “Coach’s Corner,” a segment where the hockey-lifer could discuss virtually anything he pleased. While his perspectives didn’t push the discourse forward — Cherry frequently bashed Europeans and others who he felt didn’t play hockey “the right way” while praising good Canadian boys and hard-working journeymen — he simply became part of the furniture.
Don Cherry was simply part of the Hockey Night in Canada experience.
Criticizing ‘you people’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back
If you watched Don Cherry for any length of time, you know he was prone to making some questionable comments. In the early part of the 2019/2020 hockey season, though, he finally took things too far.
In November 2019, Cherry launched into his annual speech about Remembrance Day. While he previously had complained that not enough Torontonians wore poppies, this segment proved to be different.
“You people … You love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said according to an AP report shared by NBC News. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
As laid out in a Global News piece, that comment touched a particular nerve given the multi-cultural nature of modern Canada, which likes to envision itself as a cultural mosaic, where immigrants retain their own uniqueness, rather than a melting pot that reduces everyone to a common Canadian denominator.
“Many Canadians were quick to come to the defence of those who immigrated, condemning the divisive nature of Cherry’s remarks,” the story noted.
Another Global News piece highlighted that, historically, Indian troops, as part of the Commonwealth, were involved in World War I, meaning that many immigrants actually had ancestors who also paid the ultimate price.
“If we associate the poppy with Flanders Fields, then the Sikhs and the Punjabis in particular have a stronger association with the poppy than the Canadian Expeditionary Forces by virtue of being in Flanders Fields five months before the Canadians even got there,” historian Steven Purewal said.
Those comments, and the subsequent public outcry, proved to be the last straw.
Although Grapes had survived previous controversial statements, Rogers Sportsnet finally had enough. “Coach’s Corner” and Cherry’s television career promptly became a thing of the past.
What is Don Cherry doing now?
After those fateful comments, Cherry lost his place on Hockey Night in Canada. That reality, however, hasn’t completely divorced him from the world of hockey. Cherry still maintains a Twitter presence and has his own podcast, fittingly called Don Cherry’s Grapevine Podcast.
“I sit at the kitchen table and we just tell stories,” the former broadcaster told Simon Whitehouse of NNSL Media. “My son does it and runs it and my grandson Del helps to make it sound good. Every Sunday morning I tell stories most of the time. I try not to get involved too much with scores because we find by the time it comes out, it becomes too dated.”
And, as of the 2023 NHL postseason, not that much has changed. Cherry is still tweeting — his posts, especially during the playoffs, largely consist of a sharing an image from a game and asking his followers are a question — and there are some glimpses into the man we all know and love/loathe. After the Toronto Maple Leafs lost the opening game of their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, Grapes wondered aloud if Toronto could have used a more physical presence on the ice.
And, of course, he still uses social media to promote his podcast.
For longtime hockey fans, it probably seems a bit strange to see a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast without Don Cherry. In reality, though, things aren’t that different.
While he’s no longer on TV, Cherry is still sharing his unique opinions, and, unsurprisingly, he’s still not backing down from his “you people” comments.
“Cherry said although he would rather still be doing Hockey Night in Canada, he felt he was obliged to not apologize for comments when given the chance because he meant what he said,” Whitehouse explained.