May 06, 2008
The last time an American television network drafted Don Cherry for the Stanley Cup Playoffs was when NBC decided to place him at the same desk with Brett Hull to really mix it up and make some great television. Cherry dropped some bombs, accusing the NHL of catering to American fans by eliminating fighting and calling that a mistake, because it's actually what these NASCAR-lovin', non-hockey people crave. Hull basically agreed with everything Cherry said rather than play the role of blustery contrarian, because Brett Hull absolutely sucked on NBC.
Well, Cherry will be back on U.S. television during the playoffs this season ... only it will curiously be for a network that doesn't (currently) have the rights to the NHL. William Houston of the Globe & Mail reports today that Don Cherry has temporarily joined the ESPN hive collective:
Cherry and Hockey Night host Ron MacLean will leave the CBC's Toronto studio for the road to cover the Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins series, which will start on Friday. Cherry will do live hits by remote for ESPN's SportsCentre at the end of each Flyers-Penguins game. "When I'm finished with the wrap-up on Hockey Night, I'll do the ESPN spot," Cherry said. "Sherali [Najak, the executive producer of Hockey Night ] will help set it up for me."
Cherry has plenty of critics, but ESPN's move to hire the Canadian-based commentator speaks to his popularity and profile among NHL fans on both sides of the border. "We're thrilled," said Mark Gross, ESPN's senior vice-president of studio production. "He's a great personality and being able to incorporate him into our hockey coverage is a nice addition."
Cherry will work the conference finals and then again in the Stanley Cup Finals for the WWL. So as fans and pundits still believe a move back to ESPN is something the NHL "desperately needs," is this rather noteworthy personnel move a harbinger of things to come? We don't necessarily agree with that line of thinking, but color us intrigued. Having Don Cherry on the air provides a level of puckhead street cred that, say, regurgitating Ray Ferraro does not. If it's a rather blatant attempt at pandering to disenfranchised hockey fans, it's a good one: Would you rather tune in for five minutes of postgame Don Cherry or 10 minutes of Keith Jones and The Muppet version of Johnathan Lipnicki filling time until World Extreme Rodeo starts?
In case you've forgotten, here's Cherry on NBC: