Deafening bespoke. Opinions that blare even louder and more colourful. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Hockey.
Yes, we’re talking to Donald S. Cherry as he promotes his annual reel of NHL highlights—which has sold more than 2 million units over its incredible run.
“It’s near and dear to my heart,” Cherry says. “I don’t think there’s been a sports CD go 27 years. That’s a credit to my son, Tim.”
CD, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, whatever. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em is the best-selling sports video franchise in Canadian history.
So when Don Cherry rings us up to talk about his latest stocking stuffer, we grab his opinion on the problems in Pittsburgh, the Maple Leafs' crazy crease, Steven Stamkos's future, and spearing guys right in the jock.
SPORTSNET.CA: How has the process of putting these videos together changed? With YouTube, highlights are so accessible now compared to when you started this in 1989.
DON CHERRY: It would be so simple to just pick off TV highlights, but Tim gets stuff nobody sees. He goes fast with the clicker or whatever it is, and he goes back if he saw something and picks it out. He picks out things nobody else sees. In fact, I haven’t seen half of them myself.
You always drop Rock 'Em Sock 'Em around this time for stocking stuffing purposes. What's the best Christmas gift you ever received?
My first pair of skates, secondhand. I don’t know why kids don’t get secondhand skates anymore. I was so excited. I remember they had white tape on the front, which was a big deal back then. I don’t know why we did that. I think it was to keep the water out.
We'll get into some hockey talk, but first I want to know your reaction to David Price signing with Boston?
I was disappointed. I wanted him back here. I don’t know whether to believe his agent or not, but to hear that he would’ve come back if he had an offer hurts. I suppose they’ll spend that money on other things, but it would’ve been nice to have him here. I wish he wasn’t in our division, but my second favourite team is the Red Sox. If the Blue Jays can’t win, I hope the Red Sox win. Of course, the Jays should lock up [Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion]—as many guys as they can.
Watching Sidney Crosby’s game, why do you think his production has dipped so far this year? Just six goals.
The league is getting better. I think he’s getting better now. He’s winning the draws [53.2 per cent]. Don’t worry, he’ll end up with 20 or 25 goals. They check him a lot closer. The one thing you say before the game if you’re a coach now is, “Take care of Crosby.” So he gets extra attention.
What is the biggest cause of Pittsburgh's underwhelming start, then?
I don’t think [Evgeni] Malkin was playing like Malkin. When you get a superstar like that and he’s not going, then you’re in trouble. I don’t care what the rest of the guys are doing. He seems to be pulling out of it now. He seems to be interested now. Ever since he blasted the team, he picked it up [scoring 10 points in his last 10 games]. I guess he figured he himself better get going, too. I think the big problem there was Malkin.
You saw Brandon Prust spear Brad Marchand right in the groin. Did that type of, uh, targeting go on in your day?
That happened, only they were more subtle than that. [laughs] Did he not think he’d get caught doing that? The referee was standing 20 feet from him. We used to use the spear, but it was an art to do something like that and get away with it.
Does a $5,000 fine do anything to curb a shot like that?
Five thousand dollars is still $5,000, I don’t care how much money they’re making. And Marchand’s all right. He was sort of laughing at it himself. You can’t do it out in the open. [Prust] deserved the fine.
The Maple Leafs' goalie situation is couldn't be more fascinating. How does it all play out?
It’s the strangest thing. [James] Reimer wouldn’t have been in if [Jonathan] Bernier hadn’t got hurt, and [Garret] Sparks wouldn’t be in if Reimer didn’t get hurt. Everything is working out good. Bernier went down to the Marlies and got two shutouts. It was a problem at the start, but it looks like it’s turning out. I do believe Bernier will be back. He just needed his confidence, and it looks like he got it down there.
Give me an example from your coaching days of dealing with shattered confidence.
Hardy Astrom [whom Cherry dubbed "The Swedish Sieve"]. I had him in Colorado. His only problem was pucks. I don’t know if he had confidence. The goalies I had in Boston were fantastic. Gilles Gilbert set a record that’ll never be broken [winning percentage by a goalie], and Gerry Cheevers went 32 games undefeated, a record. I had no problem there. My problem was in Colorado. Hardy shouldn’t have had any confidence.
OK. But with talented players in general, how does a coach boost their confidence when it's shot?
Same way [Mike] Babcock has treated Nazem Kadri. He lost his confidence, and he just kept putting him out there. You see he’s coming along now. You saw that shootout goal Tuesday night? Start of the season, he’d never do that. If you know they’re good hockey players, you just gotta keep playing them regularly. Babcock got criticism for putting him out on draws, and I think Tuesday night on draws he was 14 wins and five losses. He’s coming through. He’s a responsible player in his own end. Just play him.
Looking at the league as a whole, which team is overachieving? Who could slide as the weeks go on?
I know Dallas is playing good. If they’re goaltending keeps up, they’ll be fine. Everyone expected them to be good but not as good as they are. You can’t predict a slide.
Who do you see underachieving?
I don't talk about underachieving. Carolina is not going to make the playoffs. They’re having problems there. I don’t know what the solution is, but they better start because there’s no crowds there. Must be tough on the coaches and Ron Francis. They’ve gotta move some guys. The team that’s disappointing is Carolina.
Is Patrick Kane the best hockey player in the world at his moment?
You watch him play. He’s got backhanded passes and everything. I don’t know if he’s the best player right now—it’s early yet. I always go by what they do in the playoffs. But he’s got the magic hands. Everything’s breaking right for him now.
Does Steven Stamkos end up in Toronto?
Looks like his parents moved there to Florida, so if I was betting, I’d say he signs in Tampa. He loves the weather. He seems to do good there, and he’s playing a lot of hockey [19:40 per game, tops among Lightning forwards].
Was too much of a stink made about Jon Cooper throwing him on the wing?
He can play anywhere. It’s like when you go to the Olympics. You take all those centremen, put ’em on the wing, there’s no problem at all. A hockey player is a hockey player.
As a coach, did you ever get pushback from a player when you changed his position?
In the National Hockey League, they just want to play. I remember I put Ricky Middleton, 50-goal scorer, on left wing just to see how it goes, and it worked out terrific. He had never played left wing in his life before. He was a righthanded shot, so he could cut to the middle. He loved it. It’s like Rocket Richard—he played the left side as a right winger. By golly, he loved it over there. I never heard anybody ever complain.
The Oilers are finally getting decent goaltending. The Pacific Division is weak. If Connor McDavid returns in early January, can Edmonton make the playoffs?
With that firepower, all they need is a decent goaltender. That’s all they needed from the start. For some reason, goalies go there and something happens. It looks like they’re getting good goaltending now. That’s what they needed. It’s tough playing when you’re always worried about goals being scored on you.
What do you for a break at Christmas?
My break is going to see all the [minor hockey] tournaments. My son and I go to the Marlies tournament for sure. I see all the players before anybody else. I have to laugh when they’re telling me about [Connor] McDavid. I saw him at 13. And Stamkos. Go down the list. Seguin. I saw those guys when they were 14 or 15. That’s my break.