Don Cherry is sorry.
For using the words “pukes” on national television, that is.
But when it comes to ripping into former NHL enforcers Chris Nilan, Jim Thomson and Stu Grimson during his Coach’s Corner Segment on Hockey Night in Canada on Thursday night, Cherry says he has no regrets.
In fact, in a phone interview with QMI Agency late Friday afternoon, Cherry said he will be making no apologies to any of the three retired players, even after Nilan called for the veteran analyst to do exactly that on HNIC.
“I don’t think I should say sorry to them,” a candid Cherry calmly said. “Why would I? I stand behind what I said.
“The only thing I shouldn’t have done is called them “pukes.” There are kids watching and that’s not an appropriate word. That’s the only thing I would do over again.”
Cherry said he knew his comments on Coach’s Corner would create a nationwide controversy long before he uttered them, but maintained that his message needed to get out.
He certainly accomplished that.
And then some.
During the first intermission of the Maple-Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game, Cherry overshadowed the play on the ice on the opening night of the NHL season when he verbally targeted Thomson, Nilan and Grimson, three ex-pugilists who were well known for their penchant for dropping the gloves. According to Cherry’s on-air rant, all three allegedly have suggested that fighting could — maybe even should — be taken out of the game.
“If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a hypocrite,” Cherry said during the telecast. “You guys were fighters, and now you don’t want guys to make the same living you did.”
In the same segment, Cherry was livid over alleged connections made in public linking the off-season deaths of
Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak with their roles as tough guys, which some have said caused the three players to become depressed.
“The ones I am really disgusted with — a bunch of pukes that fought before — (are) Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. (They say) ‘Oh, the reason that they’re drinking, (taking) drugs and alcoholics is because they fight.’ You turncoats. You hypocrites,” Cherry continued as co-host Ron MacLean looked on.
During an emotional interview on The FAN-590 in Toronto on Friday, Nilan denied Cherry’s allegations, saying he has never called for a complete ban on fighting. Moreover, the former Bruins tough guy said he never once blamed his addiction and alcohol-abuse problems on his role as a fighter.
“At no time have I ever said that alcoholism and drug addiction is linked to fighting,” Nilan said. “He’s obviously uninformed about what he’s talking about. As far as (calling me) a puke for saying I didn’t want fighting in the National Hockey League, I’ve never said that.
“I’ll clarify my statements I made about fighting once again: I believe that the National Hockey League is in a
temperance movement. They really don’t like fighting and I believe they don’t want it in the game. I have said that if they don’t want it in the game, why don’t they just take it out? I’ve never said I wanted it out; I’ve never said I’m against fighting.”
Nilan, a former Boston Bruin who says Cherry once kissed him and told him he loved him, said Cherry’s comments were inaccurate and “the lowest of the low.”
Asked about Nilan’s reaction, Cherry said on Friday: “Knuckles (Nilan) and I were friends. But it’s in the paper
what he said, whether he denies it or not.”
Sure enough, Nilan told QMI Agency last month that: “The NHL should ban fighting because it’s no longer a
factor in the games.” Nilan has softened his stance since then.
As for Thomson, Cherry referred to a Sept. 29 article in the Toronto Sun with the headline “Ex-NHLer wants to rid hockey of fighting.” In the piece, Thomson is quoted as saying: “We were all living the dream of being one step
away from the NHL — and one step away from dying.”
Grimson, meanwhile, does not agree with Thomson about the elimination of fisticuffs, feeling the lack of an
enforcer on an NHL roster will cause opponents to take “liberties” with a team’s smaller or skilled players.”
In a column in the Sept. 4 edition of the Toronto Sun entitled “Banning Fighting Isn’t The Answer,” Grimson told
yours truly at Belak’s funeral in Nashville that the reports linking the deaths of Rypien, Belak and Boogaard were “inappropriate.”
“All three of these incidents are individual. Call them random. It’s a coincidence all three were enforcers. There are many more logical reasons against fighting that people could bring up.”
Upon learning of Cherry’s comments, Grimson said in a radio interview on Friday: “He’s edging ever closer to the line ... and I think there will come a point when he steps over that line and CBC decides it’s time to shut the senile old uncle down.”
Grimson also called for a public apology. But Cherry isn’t about to offer any up.
“No,” Cherry said on Friday. “And while we’re on the subject, here’s another thing. What bothers me the most is
that there is a brotherhood among the guys who fight. They are the most respected guys in any dressing room. And now these guys who used to be in that fraternity are making (enforcers) out to be animals.
“I don’t like it. It’s not right. “