In his new biography, NHL legend Bobby Orr made the case for his friend and former coach Don Cherry to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
As per The Canadian Press:
“His stature within the hockey community is significant and meaningful, and his importance is as great as that of any player, past or present,” Orr writes as part of an entire chapter devoted to his former coach and longtime close friend.
“Is there anyone bigger than Don Cherry in our game today? It’s incredible what this man does,” Orr said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “People have no idea. They think Don’s this big rough, gruff guy. He’s paid to give an opinion. Like him or dislike him, when he comes on, everybody, they listen.”
Orr, of course, has a long history with Cherry, dating back to when the latter was coach of the Boston Bruins during Orr’s final full season with the club.
The article goes on to note the criteria for those inducted into the HHoF in the builders category are:
“coaching, managerial or executive ability, where applicable, or any other significant off-ice skill or role, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to their organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
In his six NHL seasons as an NHL coach, most of which were with the Bruins, Cherry won the Adams Trophy as coach-of-the-year in 1976.
His many years as an outspoken commentator and personality on Hockey Night in Canada allowed him to become an influential, even respected figure in the Canadian hockey community, right down to the grassroots. He’s been a tireless supporter of Canadian minor hockey for years, championing families who support their children in minor hockey..
Despite his bombastic, flamboyant style, Cherry is far more knowledgeable about the game than his critics give him credit. He’s an outspoken advocate for improved equipment, safer rink boards and no-touch icing to reduce serious injuries. Cherry’s also been involved in numerous charities throughout the years.
For all that, however, his controversial opinions have earned him considerable criticism.
His championing of enforcers and fighting has long been a thorny issue, especially in recent years with the growing concern over head trauma in hockey.
His often derogatory remarks toward French Canadian and European players smacks of xenophobia. During his first three seasons as owner and GM of the Mississauga IceDogs, Cherry refused to select European players. The IceDogs were among the worst teams in the OHL throughout most of Cherry’s tenure.
His blatant cheerleading of the Toronto Maple Leafs often rubs fans of other Canadian clubs the wrong way. As much as he advocates player safety, he’s been far behind the times regarding the growing use of visors, once dismissing them as used only by “Europeans and French guys”.
Throughout his CBC tenure, Cherry’s sometimes controversial comments made him a target of scorn from pundits, but it was widely assumed most fans agreed with his views, or at least tolerated them. In recent years, however, the ageing Cherry has come under fire from bloggers and fans on social media, often mocking him as an old man out of touch with the modern game.
These issues potentially impede Cherry’s route into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The selection committee (predominantly made up of former NHL general managers and players) is not only very particular, there’s also a perception personal politics plays a part in their selections and omissions.
If this group can prevent a well-deserving hockey man like Pat Burns from being inducted, even when the man was dying of cancer, what chance does Cherry stand, even with Orr’s blessing?
Though Cherry still retains significant popularity throughout Canada and parts of the United States, that won’t be enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Given his outspoken and controversial manner, it could be years after Cherry retires, or perhaps long after his passing, before he would come under serious consideration for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.