Don Cherry’s spir­i­tual side

The Compass - - OPINION -

I must ad­mit that when I watch Don Cherry on Coach’s Cor­ner, I don’t im­me­di­ately think of a per­son with a spir­i­tual side. But per­haps I’ve been over­look­ing a lit­tle-known but ev­i­dently im­por­tant as­pect of his life.

He quit school in Grade 10. He tells about the day he was laid off as a con­struc­tion worker: “The jack­ham­mer was my spe­cial­ity. Strong back, weak mind.” He was em­bar­rassed and hu­mil­i­ated to have to tell his wife Rose and their chil­dren that he couldn’t find gain­ful em­ploy­ment.

Even­tu­ally, he found a job paint­ing at $2 an hour. He even tried be­ing a car sales­man. “I es­tab­lished my­self as the worst car sales­man in the world,” he jokes.

“I couldn’t seem to do any­thing right,” he says. As far as he was con­cerned, he was “a fail­ure at 36 years old. Noth­ing to look for­ward to in life.” It was one of his bleak­est times.

“One af­ter­noon,” he ex­plains, “I lay down in bed star­ing at the ceil­ing, think­ing of the mess I’d made of my life. Sud­denly, some­thing seemed to tell me to get on my knees and ask the Lord to help, which I did. I prayed, ‘Lord, is this it? What am I go­ing to do? I can’t get a job. My life is just one big fail­ure. I am em­bar­rassed to look my wife and kids in the eye.’”

Cherry gets a tad mys­ti­cal at this point, say­ing, “A light or some­thing came in the room and some­how I knew ex­actly what I was go­ing to do. A voice or some­thing came into my mind: ‘a come­back in hockey.’”

The re­al­ity was, he hadn’t played in two years. He knew it would be “tough sled­ding.”

He called, then vis­ited, the gen­eral man­ager Rochester Amer­i­can Hockey Club, Doug Adam.

“I’m go­ing to make this club or die,” Cherry later told Rose.

But he “couldn’t get the feel of the game back. I was do­ing OK, but it wasn’t there.”

When­ever he was dis­cour­aged, he would hear an in­ner voice, telling him to “keep go­ing.

“I was back feel­ing great, playing su­per, get­ting picked as a star of the game, top of the world. But black days were com­ing.” He was un­der­stand­ably heart­bro­ken when he was benched.

Long story short, af­ter a fan at­tacked Adam, Cherry was made coach, some­thing he knew a bit about. “I was born to coach,” he says. The team played ter­rific, but un­for­tu­nately missed the play­offs by a sin­gle point. He was sacked.

One day, Cherry re­ceived a call from one of the nine busi­ness­men who had bought the Rochester Amer­i­cans, Bob Clarke, ask­ing him to coach.

With­out bat­ting an eye­lash, Cherry ac­cepted, then of­fered to be gen­eral man­ager, as well, for the same money, all of $15,000.

“We packed the arena with fans,” Cherry re­calls. “The players I had were players no­body wanted, just like me. It was us against the world.” The team won and, he says, “just kept win­ning. In fact, we were first over­all in the league and I was rated Coach of the Year.”

When Cherry was con­tacted by the Bos­ton Bru­ins Hockey Club of the NHL and asked to be coach, he jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.

“I re­mem­ber my first game be­hind the Bos­ton bench,” he says.”As I looked around at the crowd and out on the ice to see Bobby Orr and all the great Bru­ins who I was coach­ing, I thought back to my room in Rochester where I couldn’t get a job sweep­ing floors and how I asked the Lord for help and to show me the way. I re­mem­bered how black and de­spon­dent and em­bar­rassed I was. In only three years He pointed the way and I was back on top of the world. In just three years, and they say there is no God. The Lord res­cued me in my dark­est hour.”

I sup­pose it goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover. Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can

be reached at­bur­tonj@nfld.net

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