TORONTO - Hayley Wickenheiser says she appreciates what Don Cherry has done for the game of hockey. She says she also often disagreed with what the colourful hockey commentator had to say.
The controversy surrounding Cherry's dismissal from Sportsnet was a hot topic among the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 at a media event Friday in advance of their Monday enshrinement. Cherry was fired Monday after nearly four decades co-hosting the popular “Coach's Corner” segment after making on-air comments which many felt were critical of immigrants for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.
“It's been tough. I've had a tough time composing my thoughts around this because I've known Don for 20 years, and of anyone in hockey with a platform, he's been a very vocal supporter of our women's game,” Wickenheiser said. “But at the same time through the years, there's many times when I watched Don and I shook my head. I disagreed with a lot of things that he said.
“The head shots - being in (medical) school - that's hard to hear. The comments that he made, I don't think were right last weekend. I don't think he meant them the way that he did, but it came out that way - and that's Don. It's not a black or white thing with Don. Human beings are nuanced. Everybody makes mistakes on any side of this issue, but I respect what he's done in his career a lot. But I also think that those comments were way offside.”
Wickenheiser was also critical of comments made by Jessica Allen on television show “The Social.” Allen said Tuesday that she doesn't “worship at the altar of hockey” and found in her experience that those who did “all tended to be white boys who weren't, let's say, very nice.”
“That comment isn't right either. Not every boy or girl that plays hockey is a privileged white person,” Wickenheiser said. “Yes, hockey is predominantly a white sport and it is a very expensive sport. There's no doubt about that. I kind of got where she was trying to come from, but those comments are inflammatory. It's not what the game needs.”
Former Montreal Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau said Cherry “said a lot of things over the 40 years he was on TV.” And while Carbonneau said most of it was “really good,” he took issue with Cherry's frequent disparaging remarks about French Canadians.
“I didn't like it. I didn't see the reason why he said those things,” Carbonneau said. “It's like Europeans. If you look at today's hockey, what would be the NHL if you didn't have the French guys or the European guys? I never really looked at it that deep. I didn't like what he said. That was it. Turn the page.”
Former star defenceman Sergei Zubov said even though social media was less pervasive when he played, Russians would still hear about it whenever Cherry insulted one of their countrymen.
“He was a great motivational point there,” Zubov said. “He just kicked us more towards our goals.
“Thanks a lot, Don.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.