National Post (Latest Edition)
MEET THE DON CHERRY NODODY KNOWS.
NHL icon likes to keep a low-profile
The Don Cherry almost nobody knows is sitting in the last row of seats in the lower bowl at T-Mobile Arena, always the last row, so easy to notice, so far removed from the mainstream crowd.
This is Cherry in Las Vegas, in the entertainment capital of the world, the newest of hockey’s new party cities, where there is noise and celebration almost everywhere and the loudest speaking, loudest dressing Canadian couldn’t be any more the opposite of his loquacious television persona.
“I don’t go anywhere,” said Cherry. “I don’t do exciting things. I’m kind of boring.”
You won’t see him in a restaurant, in a casino, in a hotel lobby, at a craps table, almost anywhere. Cherry doesn’t go out. He rarely leaves his hotel room. “He is almost a recluse,” said Ron MacLean, his close friend and professional sidekick. Not a recluse, completely, but an 84-year-old icon in his 37 th year on television, who sticks to a routine, a most unusual routine, rarely changing anything.
This is his second trip to Las Vegas in his life. The first time was 62 years ago for his marriage to the lovely and late Rose Martini. How much has Vegas changed since 1956?
“I don’t know,” said Cherry. “I couldn’t tell you. I really don’t go out much.”
He has his way of doing things. When he first checks into his hotel room on the road, the first thing he does is pull the curtains shut. No sunlight for him. “I don’t know why I do it, I just do it.” He goes into his room alone, puts the Do Not Disturb sign on his door, does not allow housekeeping to enter any day. “I never have the maid come in,” he said. “I don’t like anybody in my room. All the maids love me.
“I’m the same everywhere,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that this is Las Vegas. I don’t go anywhere. My son tells me I have to see The Titanic (artifact exhibit).” He doesn’t know if he will get there.
And every day on the road is seemingly the same. He has breakfast in his room. Oatmeal and all-bran in a glass, put together by his wife, Luba. Before practice or a morning skate, his longtime associate Kathy Broderick brings a muffin. Lunch, in his hotel room, consists of salmon sandwiches made by his wife. “It’s the greatest thing in the world,” said Cherry, the eccentric. “Salmon, cheese, mayo — after a couple of days the salmon soaks into the bread.”
Dinner will come from room service on nights there are no games, and routine being routine at 9:30 every night, he will join MacLean in his room for a beer. Always at 9:30. Never earlier, never later. MacLean is a neat freak. It doesn’t look like anyone lives in his room. It’s all part of the routine, the back and forth that defines their television life and much more than that.
“My favourite time is coming to the morning skates. We sit up high, away from everybody else,” he said. “This feels so good. It feels like I’m in the game. I always like being in rinks like this, wearing a shirt and tie, always looking good. This is what we do.”
He doesn’t talk to the players he talks about. He doesn’t want to get to know them personally. “If you get to know them, you might like them,” he said. “If you like them, you can’t say anything bad about them.
“I don’t talk to anyone. We sit up high. We don’t talk to anyone. A few years ago I had this thing with Matt Cooke. He was waiting for me in Carolina. He had hit (Marc) Savard. He hit Vinny (Lecavalier). And I said a lot about him on Coach’s Corner.
“He came up to me and said ‘I want to know if you have the nerve to say what you said about me to my face.’ We went face to face. I was so close to his face, I could look inside his mouth and see his teeth were chipped. We went at it for at least 10 minutes. I didn’t back down. They (players) know. They know I’m right.”
There haven’t been any confrontations since then.
This is a remarkable year for hockey and the National Hockey League with firstyear Vegas playing for the Stanley Cup, and this party city is abuzz with so much hockey excitement. It’s a story beyond comprehension and the final, a year after being exposed to the frenzy that was Nashville, has gone from one long party to another. But Cherry, he would rather be in Winnipeg.
“That was a disappointment to me,” he said of the Jets losing to Vegas. “I still think Winnipeg is the best team. (Marc-Andre) Fleury stole three games. He broke their hearts. Winnipeg should be here. I love everything in Winnipeg. Winnipeg is great.”
The rest of the hockey world is soaking up the sun, indulging in the casinos, staying out too late, eating steak that’s overpriced, investing time in all the different music outside T-Mobile Arena, and being exposed to so many wonders that plastic surgery can produce. This is all new, all amazing, except Don Cherry, still working, still the must-listen voice between periods, prefers Winnipeg.
Where hockey is hockey and morning skates are morning skates.