What really bothers them Alpo Suhonen, after all these years, is how little Don Cherry seemed to actually know about the game. "He knew how to fight and he knew to check, but he didn't know hockey," Suhonen, the legendary European coach, said on Tuesday. "He had no idea of skills or tactics or the like."
Thirty years ago, when Cherry first approached Suhonen, the Finnish legend had no idea who Cherry was. At the time, Suhonen had just arrived in Canada. He coached the Winnipeg Yates farm team in Moncton, NB, one of the first European coaches to ever play that role in North American hockey.
He hadn't been there for more than a month when Cherry appeared on TV, this loud man walking loud, comparing him to something an animal might eat. "Why did they bring Gene to Coach Monkton?" Jerry said, according to reports at the time. “Weren't you a good enough Canadian? … I do not wish him well in Moncton. What's his name, Alpo? Sounds like dog food to me. "
At first, Suhonen was confused. "It wasn't really fun for me," he said. He didn't know the cherry. He knew nothing about him or why he might wish him ill. "Then, later, I got to know him more," Suhonen said this week. “I thought he was a nationalist, chauvinist, narcissistic, toxic man. … I know many Canadians love his style, but his views on the Europeans and their hockey and style that he speaks to, I find to be very narrow. “
On Monday, after nearly 40 years of controversy, Sportnetnet, which has been broadcasting on Canadian Hockey Night since 2014, fired the cherry, ending a career that defined generational hockey comments in the country. The move comes less than two days after Cherry, 85, set out on a patience and seemingly pointless vulnerability for newcomers and Coach Corner Remembrance Day. His comments, blazing, parental and confused, were typical cherries. They were not in line with the dozens of other direct and purple attacks that he has done over the years. But for Cherry, 2019 finally proved too far away.
For those in the hockey world who were on the other side of Jerry, the news of his dismissal came as a shock and inevitability. "Don feels in trouble because he tends to move away from half a stack and not really check or separate what he intends to make public," said Sue "Grim Ripper" Grimson, a hockey legend Hershea used to call him "Shoot", "hypocrite" and "coat" on TV. "I can't help but feel that the game, at some point, some time ago, has passed."
Grimson, who spent 13 years in the NHL, devoted a chapter of his memoir "The Thug Bench" to his fourth battle with the cherry. At the 2011 Canadian Hockey Night season opener, Jerry inserted one of his trademark blasts for retired fighters who opposed the NHL fight. Quoting Grimson and two others, he said: "(They say) – Oh, the reason they drink, take drugs and (become) alcoholics is because they fight," says Grimson's book. "You guys were fighters and now you don't want the guys to do the same things you did!"
The problem was that Grimson and others had never said such a thing. In fact, Grimson still believes that fighting has a place in hockey. What's more, he rarely, if ever, drinks. So, through his lawyer, he demanded an apology and threatened to sue. In the end, Cherry withdrew. He apologized on the air, but he never reached Grimson personally. He did everything through his lawyer.
"I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is the way Jerry abused the talk and the influence that people like him have on public discourse today," wrote Grimson, now a Nashville hockey lawyer and commentator, in his book. "You want to disagree with someone? By all means. But can you do it with a little citizenship? “
Not everyone who was part of the Cherry Blossom group dislikes it today. Ororge Larrache, a longtime NFL executive, is both a French Canadian and a second-generation immigrant to Canada. He thinks Cherry doesn't get enough credit among other Quebecers, among other things, pushing the NHL to repatriate Nordic Quebec. "There are so many things he has done (for the French Canadians)," said Laraque. "But nobody talks about it."
Regardless of what Jerry said on Saturday, Larrake doesn't believe he's a Giant. "The comments he said were wrong. And I understand why they had to fire him, "said LaRache. "I wish he hadn't said so. But he is not a racist. " Instead, Larake thinks cherry is simply a product of its time. "In Canada, freedom of expression has changed a lot. Now in society we have to be very careful about what we say, "he said. "What happened to (the cherry) happens a lot to the older generation who didn't adjust the way they speak."
For decades after Jerry's verbal assault, Suhonen continued to work in professional hockey, both in Europe and North America. He now lives in his native Finland, where he recently produced a play about a Finnish hockey player living with the aftermath of a concussion. Although working in the same building for two years, from 1998-2000, Suhone said Frey never spoke to him about what he said on the air. He certainly never apologized. "No, no, no, no, no," Suhonen said Tuesday when asked about it. He would not apologize then and would not apologize now, not for what he said on Saturday, and he cannot even save his job. It was Don Cherry. He stood by what he said, even if, as with Suhonen, he would not say it to your face.
• E-mail: email@example.com | Twitter: enrichment
Watch New Mail's new documentary – Outside Jordan Peterson: Free Campus Speech