Happy 80th Birthday, Don Cherry | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaHappy 80th Birthday, Don Cherry

Posted: Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 09:00 AM

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Don Cherry, seen here at the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1, turns 80 years old on Wednesday. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) Don Cherry, seen here at the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1, turns 80 years old on Wednesday. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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Hockey Night in Canada icon Don Cherry celebrates his 80th birthday as he makes his way to Sochi Olympics on Wednesday.

This past Saturday night marked the last Hockey Night in Canada broadcast before Don Cherry's 80th birthday.

The iconic commentator, who has kept the hockey world tuned in with his Coach's Corner segments for more than three decades, turns 80 on Wednesday, when he makes his way to Russia for the Sochi Olympics.

Here are 80 interesting facts about Don Cherry, the man affectionately known as "Grapes":

1. Donald Stewart Cherry was born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Kingston, Ont.

2. Don's mother, Maude, was a tailor at the Royal Military College. 

3. His father, Delmar, was a master electrician and a heck of a centre-fielder.

4. Don's parents spent their honeymoon in Montreal and took in a Maroons game at the Forum.

5. Don's flare for flamboyant suits comes from his dad's sharp attire.

6. Don has a brother Dick, who is three years younger.

7. Like Don, Dick also was a defenceman and played a combined 149 regular-season and Stanley Cup playoff games with the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

8. Dick still scouts for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.

9. When Don attended high school at Kingston Collegiate Vocational Institute, he played for the school team, on the local midget and juvenile teams and the junior B Victorias at the same time.

10. At 16, Don was signed by the Boston Bruins, who assigned him to the Barrie Flyers.

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11. Don's coach in Barrie was Hap Emms and one of his teammates on the Memorial Cup championship team was future Chicago Blackhawks head coach Orval Tessier.

12. In 1954-55, Don made the jump to pro with the Hershey Bears.

13. It was in Hershey where he met his wife Rose, a secretary at the local Hershey Chocolate Factory.

14. Don and Rose had two children, daughter Cindy and son Tim.

15. After his rookie AHL season in Hershey, Don was promoted to the Bruins for the playoffs along with Bears teammate Norm Corcoran.

16. When Hockey Hall of Famer Fern Flaman suffered an injury in Game 4 of the semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens, Don made his NHL debut on March 31, 1955.

17. Don wore No. 24 in his only NHL game with Boston.

18. It was a supercharged evening at the Montreal Forum because Bernie Geoffrion and Maurice Richard were honoured for finishing first and second, respectively, in the Art Ross scoring race. It was Richard's first appearance at the Forum since he was suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs for his violent stick attack on Boston defenceman Hal Laycoe. Geoffrion passed Richard in the scoring race when the latter sat the final three games of the season.

19. Standing on the blue-line during the ceremony was Cherry. Laycoe refused to start the game because Richard was being honoured, so Bruins head coach Milt Schmidt told Don that he was starting.

220-cherry-090531.jpg20. Montreal eliminated Boston 5-1 that evening, but Don played well and was not on the ice for any of the Canadiens' goals.

21. Don felt he had a good opportunity to make the Bruins at training camp a few months later, but he suffered a separated shoulder diving for a Texas-leaguer pop-up in the outfield. The injury required surgery and hampered his conditioning for training camp.

22. In total, Don played 16 pro seasons with the Hershey Bears, Springfield Indians, Trois-Rivieres Lions, Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers, Sudbury Wolves, Spokane Comets, Rochester Americans, Tulsa Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

23. As a player, Don won four Calder Cups with Springfield (1959-60) and Rochester (1964-65, 1965-66, 1967-68) and the Lester Patrick Cup with the WHL Vancouver Canucks (1968-69).

24. One of his favourite coaches was Punch Imlach in his first of two seasons in Springfield.

25. In total, Don compiled 113 goals, 392 points and 1,465 penalty minutes in 1,113 combined regular-season and playoff games in minor pro. He also had 400 stitches, but all his teeth.

26. Don's best season, statistically, was 13 goals and 39 points in 70 games with Kitchener in 1960-61.

27. Don retired as an active player after his one and only pro season in Vancouver.

28. After jobs in the real world in construction, as a Cadillac salesman, a painter and high-school coach with the Pittsford Knights, with whom he discovered a love for coaching and won a regional championship going 18-0, Don decided to make a comeback as a player.

29. At 37, he shed 30 pounds to get back down to his playing weight in the summer of 1971 with Rochester.

220-cherry-130622.jpg30. Don played sparingly that season, only 19 of the team's first 37 games because Rochester's parent club, the Vancouver Canucks, could only dress a few players over the age of 27.

31. The young Americans, however, looked up to him as a leader.

32. Don returned home after a few post-game drinks with some teammates one night during the middle of the season to find his wife waiting up for him. Rose informed him that the team wanted to talk.

33. Don left to attend an emergency meeting and was hired to replace Doug Adam as coach. Adam stayed on as general manager. Legend has it that, after a bad loss, a Rochester fan punched Adam in the face and he didn't want to coach anymore. That's why Don replaced him.

34. Don and the Americans finished out the season with a 16-18-5 record, but missed the playoffs because of the team's 12-20-5 start.

35. Don was fired after the season by Adam, who told him that he was making a change in his department and Don was the only one in his department.

36. A new ownership group, however, bought the Americans and put Don back in charge. Rochester was an independent team and Don had his work cut out for him to beg, borrow and steal enough players to build a roster.

37. Two years later, he won the Louis Pieri Memorial Award as AHL coach of the year in 1973-74.

38. Don was promoted to Boston Bruins head coach in the summer of 1974.

39. Don was at the NHL draft in Montreal when Bruins GM Harry Sinden took him out for a few beers and finally got around to asking, "How would you like to coach the Boston Bruins?"

220-cherry-790510.jpg40. Grapes didn't say "Yes" right away, wanting to confer with Rose. She left the decision up to him.

41. The next morning, he accepted the $40,000 a year, three-season deal from Sinden and was given a raise to $60,000 in his final two seasons.

42. Don coached Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and, later, a Boston team dubbed the "Lunch Pail Athletic Club" by the local press for five seasons. The Bruins made the playoffs every season during his tenure, including two trips to the Stanley Cup final in 1977 and 1978 against Montreal.

43. In 1976, Don was an assistant coach with Team Canada when it won the Canada Cup on Darryl Sittler's tournament-clinching goal in overtime.

44. Don advised the Canadian players during the intermission before OT that Czech goalie Vladimir Dzurilla was too aggressive and could be beaten with a fake. That's exactly what Sittler did to score the winner.

45. The crushing blow for Don and the Bruins arrived late in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal against the Canadiens when, up 4-3, linesman John D'Amico penalized Boston for having too many men on the ice with 2:34 left.

46. Guy Lafleur scored the tying goal and Yvon Lambert won it in OT for the Habs.

47. Don was crushed. His relationship with Sinden was on the fritz and could not be salvaged. Grapes and the Bruins parted ways a few days later.

48. Don's record in Boston was 231-105-64 with a 31-24 playoff record.

49. He won the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year in 1975-75.

220-cherry-100120.jpg50. Later that summer, Don talked with varying degress to the Buffalo Sabres and Atlanta Flames, but wound up taking a job with the Colorado Rockies for $135,000 a year for two seasons.

51. The night before he was about to be introduced as Rockies head coach, his agent Alan Eagleson phoned him in Denver to inform him that Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard had made a three-year, $150,000 a season offer.

52. Even though he had yet to sign his contract with the Rockies, Don would not go back on his word. He turned down Ballard's eleventh-hour offer because he had given Rockies ownership his word.

53. The gig in Denver didn't last long, one season to be exact.

54. There were a couple of highlights in the 19-win season: a return to Boston Garden, in which the Rockies managed a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Bruins; and a 5-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the home finale.

55. Don coached the 1981 Canadian team to a fourth-place finish at the world championship in Sweden.

56. The Canadian team in Sweden included, of all people, Lafleur, after Montreal was upset by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, Lafleur was injured early in the tournament.

57. Don made one final return to coaching, with the OHL's Mississauga IceDogs.

58. After owning the junior team for the previous three years - and just a three-win season in that third year - he stepped behind the bench in 2000-01, but could only improve the team's record to 11-47-10.

59. Don was approached late in the 1979-80 season to work for Hockey Night, when his season with the Rockies wound down, to do some playoff broadcasts.

220-cherry-cc.jpg60. Don did eight segments with then-studio host Dave Hodge.

61. The next season, he was hired full-time as a game analyst.

62. Don likes to tell the story about working the New York Islanders-Quebec Nordiques semifinal story when a lady yelled at him "Hey Cherry, when you gonna get an honest job?" He looked up to find the person who uttered the disparaging remark was from Mike McEwen's wife. McEwen was a defenceman who gave him fits with the Rockies (he was a minus-33 playing for Cherry), but went on to win three Stanley Cups with the Islanders.

63. McEwen was the player Don choked during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks because he stayed on to long and coughed up the puck. Don had warned McEwen to keep his shifts short, but he stayed on way too long, got tired, coughed up the puck and Chicago tied the game late in the third. McEwen left the team, but came back in a week or so. Don's relationship with the Rockies went downhill after that.

64. Up until he began to work full-time for Hockey Night, Don said his family had moved 53 times during his playing/coaching career.

65. Coach's Corner began in 1983 with Hodge. Ron MacLean took over late in the 1986-87 season.

66. Don also had a successful weekly television show called Grapevine that ran from 1982 to 1991.

67. His syndicated radio program with Brian Williams, called Grapeline, is in its 31st season.

68. Don has written three books: Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey with Stan Fischler; Don Cherry's Hockey Stories and Stuff with Al Strachan; and Don Cherry's Hockey Stories, Part II, also with Strachan.

69. Rose lost her battle with cancer in 1997. In tribute, the Rose Cherry Home for Kids in Milton, now called the Darling Home for Kids, was established as a respite for children in need of palliative services.

220-cherry-100610.jpg70. Don married his current wife, Luba, in 1999.

71. His son, Tim, who is a scout for OHL central scouting, wrote and produced the CBC film, Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story in 2010.

72. The sequel was The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II.

73. Tim also produces the annual highlight video Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Hockey, which celebrated its 25th year last fall.

74. In CBC's Greatest Canadian series in 2004, Don was ranked seventh overall.

75. When Don is home during the week, he watches NHL games in an orange cloth recliner he bought in 1964.

76. He is also an avid reader. His favourite books are biographies on historical leaders. He often reads two books at a time.

77. Don's first bull terrier, Blue, was bought in 1971. There have been three Blues in his life.

78. The nickname "Grapes" dates back to his days in Trois-Rivieres. A teammate gave him the monicker.

79. Don entered the world of Twitter in March 2012 and has more than 300,000 followers. He dictates his opinions to friend and Hockey Night producer Kathy Broderick.

80. Last October, Orr opined that "because of what he contributed to the game, Don Cherry really deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame." 

Thanks to Tim Cherry for taking the time to proof-read this list and adding some insights into his dad's interesting life.

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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