When the caller ID on my dumb phone said “unknown,” I knew it was time to reach for a pen and cross a line off the bucket list.
Sure enough, it was hockey’s most resonant voice, Don Cherry, the defenseman, then player-coach, then coach for whom I cheered during Sunday night trips to the Rochester War Memorial.
Cherry, 85, remains as sharp as the skates he wore back in the days he skated alongside Al Arbour and they helped Gary Smith and fan favorite Bobby Perreault keep the puck out of the net so that Red Armstrong and Bronco Horvath goals scored for the Amerks didn’t go for naught.
Enough with yesterday. Cherry is all about the moment. He might work from a studio, but he’s live music all the way. You never know what might come out of his mouth, but you can bet it will be interesting, original, sometimes cringe-worthy. His commentary, like his wardrobe, never is drab during the Coaches Corner segment with co-host Ron Maclean on Hockey Night in Canada.
Cherry always has something cool to say about whatever’s hot in hockey. Since nobody’s hotter than the Bruins, I thought I’d run him down.
“Absolutely amazing,” Cherry said of the Bruins. “With the injuries they’ve had, one guy gets hurt and the other guy comes back. It’s fantastic the way they’re going.”
Cherry said he considers the race for the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL forward who plays the best defense, is not even worth discussing because nobody compares to Patrice Bergeron. And Cherry, who coached the Bruins for five seasons, didn’t stop there.
“He should not only be the Selke winner, but should be the MVP,” Cherry said. “He wins every important draw, kills penalties, takes your regular shift and plays the power play. I don’t know who else can win the Selke besides him. And the way he’s going, he at least has to be in the top three for MVP.”
Cherry said he watched last Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Panthers, when the Bruins scored twice in the final 37 seconds, the winner coming with 6.7 left on Bergeron’s second goal of the third period. That came two nights before another come-from-behind triumph, this one with David Krejci tipping home the winning goal with 44.7 seconds left.
“That game, I think, spelled it all,” Cherry said of Thursday’s comeback. “To tie it up with less than a minute to go and then win it with six seconds to go, holy smokes. And (Brad) Marchand sets up the winning goal. Amazing the way they’re playing together.”
The spoked B always will be a part of Cherry, as he shared when he once said of the Bruins, “I love them so much I still wear their shorts.”
Cherry marveled at the competitive endurance of defenseman Zdeno Chara, who turns 42 next month and is 138 days older than Tom Brady.
“Chara’s playing like he first broke into the league,” Cherry said. “The one thing they’ve got going that they didn’t have at the start of the year is (Tuukka) Rask is playing like he did two or three years ago. So they’ve got two good goalies (Jaroslav Halak) going.”
“I hope they haven’t peaked too soon, that’s all,” Cherry said.
He gave high grades to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I like the way he coaches. He doesn’t play any favorites and he has good spirit on the club,” said Cherry, winner of the Jack Adams Award as Bruins coach in 1975-76. “I think he’s very honest, which is good. ... I think he’s done a marvelous job. And if (Islanders coach) Barry Trotz didn’t have the coach of the year wrapped up already, he’d be in the running for that.”