By Darrin McGrath | Cabin Country| The Shoreline, January 9 2019 (Vol. 31 No. 43)
Now that winter is upon us, it’s a great time to do some reading. I received a couple of good books as Christmas gifts, but the books are about as similar as night and day.
Father Greg Hogan’s book of poetry – Nativity – contains some thought provoking works on the birth of Christ, his family, the shepherds and Wise Men. I found reading these poems really got me thinking about aspects of the Nativity story that I had previously not considered. For example, Hogan’s poems talk about Joseph carrying his carpenter’s tools on the donkey, and how a carpenter in those times was a poor man. All in all, Nativity makes a great addition to any collection.
Another book I received was Don Cherry’s Hockey Greats and More. Cherry is well-known as a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. But he was also an NHL coach, General Manager and a long-time professional hockey player. It is interesting to note that Cherry also owns a cabin at Wolfe Island in Ontario. So even Canada’s most famous hockey coach likes to go to his cottage to relax and unwind.
It seems that playing/watching hockey and going to the cottage or cabin are two core values in Canadian society.
Cherry is a controversial figure and at least one person who I spoke with about this book told me, “can’t stand Cherry, he’s a buffoon.” But whatever one thinks of Cherry he has a wealth of experience in pro-hockey from his days as a minor league player to his days as NHL coach, and coach of Team Canada in the 1981 World Championships.
Hockey Greats and More is full of interesting stories and characters. One of the most interesting stories in the book is about the 1977-78 Boston Bruins which had eleven players who scored twenty goals or more. This is a scoring record that still stands today. The players included the likes of Rick Middleton, Peter McNab and Terry O’Reilly.
Some of Cherry’s short stories include excerpts from interviews he conducted on his TV show back in the 1980s. These interviews had legendary subjects such as Scotty Bowman, King Clancy, Phil Esposito and John Ferguson.
It is very interesting to read Cherry’s book and compare the salaries of the players in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s to the money made by today’s hockey stars. For example, Larry Zeidel made $7,000 dollars while playing for the Detroit Red Wings in 1952-53. Zeidel was a “tough guy” and the type of hockey he played is vastly different than the high-speed, concussion-aware league that exists now. Back in the 1950s in the original six league players didn’t wear helmets and fighting was an accepted part of the game. Most players had jobs in the off-season.
Of course, salaries have changed in the NHL, and the whole attitude around fighting as part of the game has changed. Cherry discusses how players such as Dave “The Hammer” Schultz and Bob “Battleship” Kelly fought their way through the league in the 1970s. Recall that the Philadelphia Flyers won two Stanley Cups with their mixture of talent and toughness in the mid-1970s.
Some of the stories in this book deal with people outside the hockey world that Don Cherry knew. For example, he devotes a chapter to baseball and Canadian-born star pitcher Fergie Jenkins.
Cherry also has a very interesting chapter about his friendship with the late Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip. We learn the story about how Cherry appeared in a Hip video, and about the last time the two men talked at a hockey game.
Hockey Greats also discusses current events. For example, Cherry writes about Brendan Shanahan and what a good job he has done with rebuilding the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He also talks about the 2018 Cup Final and the way the Vegas Knights almost won the championship. Cherry believes that the players on the Knights had a chip on their shoulder at being left unprotected in the expansion draft and they had “something” to prove. The team was hungry. The reader learns about George Salami, chief of the ice crew at the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. Salami hails from Windsor, Ontario.
Cherry also writes about Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant and how he was cruelly fired by his previous team – the Florida Panthers. Cherry states that, “I’ve been involved in hockey a long time. I’ve seen some bad firings. I’ve been fired myself. This is the worst firing in the history of the NHL.”
The Panthers were on the team bus after losing a game, the gear was all stowed aboard and Gallant got the news at curbside that he was fired. He had to get his bags off the bus and hail a taxi as the bus sped away.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hockey Greats and More. In fact, my only complaint about this book is that it wasn’t long enough, even though it has 230 pages. I found myself wishing Cherry had shared more of his stories from his life spent in hockey.