Inside the NHL

To hear Don Cherry tell it, his hockey views haven’t changed much since toiling as a rugged defenseman for the Spokane Comets of the early-1960s minor professional Western Hockey League.

The iconic Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) commentator with flamboyant suits and opinions to match remembers Seattle as “a great hockey city’’ where he’d face the Totems and star captain Guyle Fielder, who he figures would flourish in today’s NHL.

“They play his style,’’ Cherry told me by phone. “It’s not as rough as it used to be and he wasn’t a big guy. So, he’d have been good.’’

Cherry, now 85 and long a proponent of the rougher, tougher hockey of yesteryear, hopes Seattle’s incoming NHL team gets named “Totems’’ and that he works HNIC games here the franchise’s 2021-22 debut season. But that seemed doubtful last weekend when a report suggested Sportsnet might not retain Cherry – sending shockwaves through a country that’s watched the HNIC fixture since 1982.

Even Cherry subsequently confirming his 2019-20 return didn’t quell debate about his future and whether his “old school” views remain relevant. Newbie local hockey fans might not know Cherry, but understanding his longevity on Canadian television provides a useful mirror into the soul of an NHL still grappling with how its past fits its desired future.

No U.S. sportscaster has ever had the impact, influence, popularity or recognition factor Cherry and his “Coach’s Corner’’ intermission segments enjoy north of the border. A 2004 vote saw CBC viewers pick Cherry seventh on a list of Canada’s all-time greatest figures – directly ahead of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, first-ever Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and Wayne Gretzky.

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