Cherry picks Cup winner

Don Cherry spoke Wednesday night at a new Don Cherry's Sports Grill in Sault Ste. Marie. (QMI...

Don Cherry spoke Wednesday night at a new Don Cherry's Sports Grill in Sault Ste. Marie. (QMI Agency/Michael Purvis)

PETER RUICCI, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 2:44 PM ET

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. -- One more time, but that's it.

For the second year in a row, Don Cherry is predicting the San Jose Sharks will win the Stanley Cup.

"Surely, they have to win it one of these years," said Cherry, the popular co-host of Hockey Night in Canada's Coach's Corner segment.

Cherry, in Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday for the official opening of Don Cherry's Sports Grill on Great Northern Road, also picked the Sharks to win last year's Cup.

Instead, the Pittsburgh Penguins went all the way, beating the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh game in Detroit.

"But if San Jose doesn't do it this year, I'm not picking them again," Cherry laughed. "This is the last time."

Cherry, who turns 76 next month, spoke highly of the Sharks goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, "and they've got the scoring and the defence," he said of the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, up front, and defencemen Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. "That's a good team."

The statistics certainly bear that out.

With a 30-10-7 record, San Jose began today with the most points in the NHL, 67.

Cherry, who was greeted by hundreds of fans eager for autographs, pictures or simply for the chance to shake hands with him, offered opinions on several topics.

He called the Sault "a great hockey town."

Cherry especially appreciated the way in which fans turned out in 2002 for his final appearance here as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga IceDogs.

"I just admired how everyone showed up," he said. "You couldn't get a ticket. It's like a Montreal or Boston crowd here. The fans know their hockey, they know a penalty right before it's called."

Cherry also has strong feelings about the decision commissioner Dave Branch made to suspend Erie forward Michael Liambas for the remainder of the OHL season.

Last Oct. 30, Liambas was assessed a match penalty for boarding after hitting Ben Fanelli, a Kitchener Rangers defenceman, behind the Rangers goal.

Fanelli's helmet flew off, the back of his head hit the ice and he was knocked unconscious. The 16-year-old suffered skull and facial fractures.

"Branch had to do it," said Cherry, long a proponent of tough, physical hockey. "It was the right thing. He (Liambas) didn't slow down at all. Everybody in hockey was talking about headhunting around that time and Branch had to do it. He had no choice."

As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team Cherry sees often, the outspoken commentator believes a change between the pipes is needed.

"Just look at that (Tuesday's) game," Cherry said. "They outshoot Carolina 40-20 (actually 40-18) and they lose. They have to switch goalies."

Jonas Gustavsson was in goal for the Leafs Tuesday.

"They're not playing that badly," Cherry added of the 15-23-9 Leafs. "They just need a goalie, they need some snipers and they need someone to feed (Phil) Kessel."


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