A shuddering quake rumbled through the world of Canadian sports yesterday, as the NHL abruptly changed gears and dismantled the holy Canadian sports broadcasting trinity of CBC, TSN, and RDS. Rogers Communications wrote a big fat cheque and with one swift stroke snatched NHL hockey broadcast rights from the established competition. With the sweeping changes, CBC will cede its ownership of the Hockey Night in Canada brand to its winning rival Sportsnet and will no longer be producing the iconic show.
As news reached the masses, a vocal subspecies of hockey fans ran panic-stricken to their keyboards. They shrieked across the vast expanse of social media the question that they so desperately wanted answered: What will happen to Don Cherry?
These are the Cherryites.
Fanatical disciples of the church of the starched collar, fervent practitioners to the Tao of old time hockey, and ardent believers in the mythical unwritten code. Surely, without the shield of the public broadcaster the future of their high priest was in doubt, and without Cherry the evil communist influence of Ron MacLean would certainly foul the landscape of the great game forever! Dark times indeed.
To the Cherryites I say this: Relax…
If there’s a word that you can attach to the one man industry that is Don Cherry, it's "shtick". And if there’s one thing that a mass media outlet loves, it's a shtick. You see, over the years Don has been uniquely self-aware in the sense that he’s taken all the parts of his personality that people love and/or hate and has carefully ground, polished and crafted them into a gleaming example of a shtick that could only be approached by the likes of David Lee Roth. He is a perfect, self-contained, one-man traveling road show of all things old school hockey, and I would wager the brain trust at Rogers Communications has no aversions to cashing in on the buffoonery that may have given the CBC pause. However, Coach’s Corner as it stands now might be a different story.
Ron MacLean has always fit in better with the horned rim glasses crowd at the mother corporation than the average Joe or Jane six pack watching at home. He was the perfect foil and policeman for Don, who had become the beloved hockey icon of the great unwashed. In the eyes of the CBC, Ron could at least add some of the high-minded principals of the cardigan set into the show and hopefully keep Don from going too far off the reservation. Now though, the tables have turned somewhat and in the eyes of corporate "kill or be killed" media, controversy equals eyeballs and eyeballs equal money. I would suspect that the new masters at Sportsnet may have little need for the moderate voice of Ron MacLean, and absolutely no need for an extra line item on the production bill.
While we’re speculating, there is another possibility to consider; maybe Don's just tired of being the ring master of his own traveling circus? A final year wrapped in the flag of the CBC might be the perfect way to sign off and go gentle into that good night. Although you get the sense that Don might wither and die outside the glare of the spotlight, he’s approaching the final minute of the third period in his life and starting again under new masters, however gracious, might not be worth the effort.
So at the end of the day, Cherryites have more to fear from father time than the shake-up at the CBC. However the bearded, elbow patch, corduroy sport jacket crowd may have to wait for the inevitable CBC pledge drives to see the re-emergence of Ron MacLean. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Don Cherry has fore-checked his way into the Canadian lexicon. Because of that, in one man's opinion, a logo change on the title sequence won’t kill Coach’s Corner.