Cherry gives Leafs thumbs up

GARY LOEWEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Don Cherry doesn’t mind tellin’ ya the Maple Leafs are his second favourite team.

Even though the Leafs are labouring in second-last place in the NHL, the star of Coach’s Corner ... the king of hockey ... the emperor with a nose for clothes ... gives them the thumbs up.

Even Ron Wilson — with whom Cherry has had an adversarial relationship — is A-OK, sort of.

Following are Cherry’s thoughts on the Leafs coach, manager, truculence and fans:

The coach

“Wilson, although he doesn’t like me very much, has done okay, he hasn’t lost the team,” Cherry said Thursday.

Cherry has had a running battle with Wilson since the latter arrived as coach last season.

But on Coach’s Corner last Saturday, Cherry said “Wilson is doing a good job, (the players) are not quitting. Ya gotta give him credit for that.”

Wilson, though, didn’t reciprocate.

“Even though I praised Wilson (for getting the players to play hard) he ripped me after the game,” Cherry said, chuckling.

Apparently, Wilson didn’t take kindly to Cherry’s suggestion that Luke Schenn play only the right side and be paired with a veteran defenceman on the ice and as a roomie on the road.

That’s the kind of treatment Grapes gets ... “after a 20-year career of being the nice guy.”

The manager

Cherry says he took heat for defending GM Brian Burke last week.

He said Burke hadn’t promised the Leafs would make the playoffs, only that they would “shoot for the playoffs.”

While flashy scorer Phil Kessel has made Burke look “really good,” Cherry said he has concerns about the cost of acquiring him.

“I’m a little bit worried about those two first-round picks — if it’s a top-three pick (in 2010) and they lose out on (Cam) Fowler, (Tyler) Seguin or Taylor Hall.”

On the flipside, the recipient of that first-round pick is Cherry’s favourite team, the Boston Bruins, so he can’t lose.

The truculence

“Burke has done a decent job but I’m surprised he doesn’t have some tough guys who play regularly,” Cherry said.

Or, at least, give his physical forwards more ice time.

“Colton Orr and Jamal Mayers should be playing on the third line,” he said. “If you’re going to try to build a reputation as a tough team you have to play the tough guys.

“(Wayne) Primeau, Orr and Mayers on a third line are not going to hurt you, they don’t take bad penalties.”

The fans

Despite the poor start, Cherry doesn’t see a decrease in Leafs Nation.

“Wherever we go, we hear ‘go, Leafs, go,’ ” he said.

A few weeks ago, Cherry took aim at Leafs fans who put bags over their heads at a home game.

One of those upset fans responded to the Sun (Nov. 14), defending his actions.

“Did they make the bags between periods?” Cherry asked. “They were pretty fancy bags.

“If you’re a good fan, don’t put a bag over your head.

“The Leafs won’t make the playoffs, to be realistic. But, hey, they’re trying, that’s why I’m in their corner. The guys are trying their absolute best.”

gary.loewen@sunmedia.ca


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