Cherry played one game with the Boston Bruins, and later coached the team for five seasons after concluding a successful playing career in the American Hockey League. He is also well known as an author, syndicated radio commentator for the Sportsnet Radio Network, creator of the Rock'em Sock'em Hockey video series, and celebrity endorser. Cherry was voted the seventh greatest Canadian on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's television special, The Greatest Canadian. In March 2010, his life was dramatized in a two-part Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made-for-television movie, Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story, based on a script written by his son, Timothy Cherry. In March 2012, CBC aired a sequel, The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II.
Cherry was born in Kingston, Ontario to Delmar (Del) and Maude Cherry. His paternal grandfather, John T. (Jack) Cherry, was an original member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and a Great Lakes ship captain. His maternal grandfather, Richard Palamountain, was a British orphan of Cornish parentage who was emigrated to Canada as one of the Home Children. The name Palamountain is a corruption of the Cornish language "pol-mun-tyr" meaning "pool by the mineral land". Palamountain was also a veteran of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Cherry's father Del was an amateur athlete and worked as an electrician with the Canadian Steamship Lines. On the March 15, 2008 edition of Coach's Corner, Cherry wore the green and gold colours of County Kerry, Ireland. In his segment following the game, he claimed ancestry from that region. Cherry's younger brother, Dick Cherry played hockey at various levels, including two seasons in the National Hockey League with the Philadelphia Flyers.
In his first year with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, he met his future wife Rosemarie (Rose) Cherry née Madelyn Martini (born 1935 in Hershey, Pennsylvania). Rose was hugely influential in Don's life—because of Don's minor-league hockey lifestyle, they moved 53 times; they rarely had decent housing or furnishings, and Don was often away playing during major events, such as the birth of their daughter and first child, Cindy Cherry. Six years after Cindy's birth, Rose gave birth to son Tim Cherry. When Tim needed a kidney transplant at age 13, Cindy donated one of hers. The two currently live across the street from each other, around the corner from their father, in Mississauga.
Rose died of liver cancer on June 1, 1997 and in honour of her perseverance, Don created Rose Cherry's Home for Kids. Her name has motivated Cherry to always wear a rose on his lapel. Cherry contributed in developing Rose Cherry's Home for Kids which has since been renamed to The Darling Home for Kids, in Milton, Ontario. The Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, is located on "Rose Cherry Place", a street named for his late wife.
In 1999, Don married his second wife, Luba.
Cherry played junior hockey with the Barrie Flyers and the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey Association. Cherry won the Memorial Cup as a defenceman with Barrie in 1953. He dropped out of high school, and in 1954 he signed with the American Hockey League's (AHL) Hershey Bears.
Cherry had a long playing career in professional minor hockey, and in 1955 played his only NHL game when the Boston Bruins called him up during the playoffs. According to Cherry, a baseball injury suffered in the off season kept him from making the NHL, despite his almost 20 years playing in the minor leagues. He retired as a player in 1970, but came out of retirement 2 years later to play 19 final games with the Rochester Americans. Cherry won the Calder Cup championship (AHL) four times—1960 with the Springfield Indians, and 1965, 1966, 1968 with Rochester. He also won the Lester Patrick Cup, the Western Hockey League Championship, with the Vancouver Canucks in 1969.
After the end of the 1968–69 season, his playing career was essentially over. Cherry struggled for a time as a Cadillac salesman and a construction worker. He worked as a painter earning $2 per hour.
In the middle of the 1971–72 season, Cherry became the coach of the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans and won Coach of the Year. The following year, the title of General Manager was added. In his third season behind the bench, Cherry was voted the AHL's "Coach of the Year".
After his three-year stint in Rochester, he was promoted to the NHL as head coach of the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were coming off a successful run of two Stanley Cups and three first-place finishes, but would soon see the exit of superstars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.
Cherry quickly developed a reputation for being an eccentric, flamboyant coach who strongly encouraged physical play among his players. According to Cherry, he modeled the Bruins' playing style after that of his dog, Blue, a feisty bull terrier. While the team had previously been known for Orr and Esposito who were highly skilled scorers, their impending departures had Cherry remake the team with enforcers and grinders which became known as the "lunch-pail gang" (or "lunch pail A.C.") and "the Big Bad Bruins". Albeit for a brief slump until Esposito and Carol Vadnais were traded to the New York Rangers for Brad Park and Jean Ratelle, as Esposito disagreed with Cherry's coaching while Park would thrive under it. This approach of "balance over brilliance" rejuvenated the Bruins as they continued to be one of the NHL's best teams during the latter half of the 1970s, capturing the division title four straight seasons from 1975–76 through 1978–79. In the 1977–78 season, Cherry coached the Bruins team to an NHL record of 11 players with 20 goals or more on a single team. Cherry won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1976.
The Bruins were able to defeat the rough Philadelphia Flyers twice in the playoffs under Cherry's tenure. The Bruins made the Stanley Cup finals twice, both times losing to their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in both 1977 and 1978. In the 1979 semi-final playoff series against the Canadiens, Cherry's Bruins pushed the series to the limit but they were undone by a late penalty in the seventh game. Up by a goal with less than three minutes left in the seventh game, the Bruins were called for having too many men on the ice. The Canadiens' Guy Lafleur scored the tying goal on the subsequent power play, and ultimately the Canadiens won the game in overtime. Montreal went on to easily defeat the New York Rangers for their fourth straight Cup title. Cherry, who had an uneasy relationship with Bruins General Manager Harry Sinden, was fired by the Bruins afterward.
Cherry went on to coach the Colorado Rockies the following season. Under his tenure, the Rockies adopted the motto "Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out!" and the slogan could be seen on billboards all over Denver in the 1979–80 season. Cherry's hiring as head coach immediately rejuvenated the ailing franchise's fortunes.
However, as he later admitted, his outspokenness and feuding with Rockies general manager Ray Miron did not endear Cherry to management. While Cherry did much to motivate the players, goaltending was still the team's weakness as Miron refused to replace Hardy Åström, whom Cherry dubbed "The Swedish Sieve". Cherry recalled one game where his players had taken ten shots on goal without scoring, but Åström then conceded a goal from the opponent's first shot and so was yanked from net. Of course, Cherry didn't help things when, after watching defenseman Mike McEwen ignore him and refuse to come off during a game, he reached over the boards and manhandled McEwen to the bench. When the Toronto Maple Leafs' Lanny McDonald was abruptly traded to Colorado, McDonald found himself at the centre of another power struggle between Cherry and Miron. Cherry was sympathetic to the fact that McDonald's wife was less than two weeks away from giving birth (as Cherry had not been present when his own wife Rose had given birth), and gave McDonald permission to leave the team on off-days to return to his wife in Toronto. However, general manager Miron did not approve of McDonald's leave. This became another factor that led to Cherry's contract not being renewed after one season.
Cherry's NHL career ended on a positive note when they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5–0 in the final game of the season held at home. Years later, while commentating during the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils (the Rockies franchise moved to New Jersey after 1982), Cherry recalled the experience of the Rockies' last game where he was wearing cowboy boots and after it ended, the Rockies players formed two lines with their hockey sticks raised to form an arch so he could depart the ice between them while acknowledging the cheers of the crowd.
In 1983, Cherry was asked by businessman Bill Hunter, who attempted to purchase the St. Louis Blues and move them to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to coach his team in Saskatoon. However, the NHL's Board of Governors rejected the move, and the Blues remained in St. Louis.
Internationally, Cherry was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 1976 Canada Cup and was head coach for Canada's team at the 1981 World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Cherry was the part-owner and the former coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga IceDogs. As owner and general manager, he gained notoriety by refusing to take part in the CHL import draft, and by only playing North American born players. The IceDogs' first three seasons were difficult ones with the team winning a total of 16 games combined. Cherry took over coaching duties in the fourth season. During Cherry's one season as head coach of the IceDogs, the team managed 11 victories (only a slight improvement) and failed to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Cherry drew some criticism for his sudden decision to allow European born players onto the IceDogs line-up during the one season he coached the team.
After the Colorado Rockies failed to qualify for the 1980 Stanley Cup playoffs, Cherry was hired as a studio analyst for CBC's playoff coverage that spring, working alongside host Dave Hodge. CBC hired him full-time in 1981 as a colour commentator, but he didn't last long in that role due to his tendency to openly cheer for one of the teams playing, especially the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, "Coach's Corner" was created, a segment that appeared in the first intermission on Hockey Night in Canada, with Dave Hodge. In 1986, Hodge was replaced by Ron MacLean, with whom Cherry has been teamed ever since. For several years he also hosted his own half-hour interview show, Don Cherry's Grapevine, which began on Hamilton's CHCH-TV in the 1980s before moving to TSN. His loud, outspoken nature became notorious, and his shows are described as "game analysis, cultural commentary and playful parrying with host Ron MacLean." Cherry also hosted a syndicated weekly television show called Don Cherry's This Week in Hockey during the 1987–88 NHL season. It featured highlights from the previous week's NHL games. The highlight of each show was when Cherry awarded a Black and Decker cordless drill to the player who levied the "hit of the week" (called the "Drill of the Week" in order to tie into the cordless drill giveaway).
Cherry's commentary is usually peppered with catchphrases like "All you kids out there...," unrestrained affection for his favourite players (including Steve Yzerman and Kingston native Doug Gilmour, whom Cherry affectionately refers to as "Dougie" and once kissed on-air in a famous TV gag), and overall political incorrectness. Another trademark is his bull terrier Blue, originally a gift from the Bruins players.
Cherry tends to frequently focus on a few pieces of advice that he feels strongly about. Virtually every week on Coach's Corner he spends time exhorting the evils of attempting to block a shot using one's hockey stick (arguing that it often causes deflections while impeding the goalie's view of the puck). Two other perennial favourites are the dangers of touch icing (a rule he blamed for the premature end to Pat Peake's career) and the extremely sensitive rules about crease violation during the early 2000s (since relaxed). He is also critical of the two-minute penalty for firing the puck into the crowd from the defensive zone, introduced since the start of the 2005–06 NHL season.
He also praises hockey players who show great toughness. Examples of this include when, in the 1999 playoffs, a Phoenix Coyotes winger crawled off the ice after enduring a bone-shattering slap shot from St. Louis Blues defenceman Al MacInnis so that another could take his place. Usually at the end of the NHL season, his send off words in recent years have been about NHL prospects entering the NHL draft. His position is that unless a player is guaranteed to be selected in the first or second rounds, they should not physically attend the draft, reasoning that some players could be disappointed if they are drafted later than expected, or worse, not at all.
Cherry returned to the news in May 2004 amid rumours that CBC would terminate his contract for Hockey Night in Canada. However, he re-signed with the network in July.
Branching out from his Hockey Night in Canada duties, Cherry began to release a series of videos called Don Cherry's Rock'Em Sock'em Hockey in 1989. The 15th anniversary video was released in 2003, with a 'Best Of' released in 2005. For the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, NBC decided to feature Cherry in its intermission coverage, a rare appearance on American television. He was partnered with Bill Clement and Brett Hull and it did not conflict with his usual role on CBC as he appeared on NBC during the second intermission.
In May 2008, ESPN announced that Cherry was joining Barry Melrose as a commentator for the remainder of the 2008 NHL Playoffs. He provided pre-game analysis for the conference finals, pre- and post-game analysis for the Stanley Cup finals, and appeared on ESPNews and ESPN Radio. ESPN also announced that he would donate his fees to the Humane Society.
Cherry has been criticized for comments targeting specific ethnicities, such as French Canadians and Europeans, and this has led to Cherry's broadcasts being put on a seven-second delay by the CBC.
Cherry is a strong advocate of a tough "Canadian" type of hockey which emphasizes physical play and a "code" of conduct among the players. He believes that fighting is an integral part of the game as it enforces respect between teams and players, as well as being popular with some members of the public.
He has long been a champion of hardworking "journeyman" players, whom he identifies with from his own time spent playing in the minor leagues. Don Cherry's favourite player of all time is Bobby Orr who he says is the greatest player of all time. Other favourites include Doug Gilmour, Vincent Lecavalier, and Cam Neely. Cherry has criticized many players for what he considers dishonourable conduct, but perhaps none more than Ulf Samuelsson and Matt Cooke, whom he considered to be exceptionally dirty players responsible for many severe injuries.
Cherry has strongly criticized the direction taken by the National Hockey League in recent years, reducing fighting in favour of speed, and skill. Specific rules that he criticizes include touch-up icing and the instigator rule.
He also frequently criticizes players for elaborate celebrations after goals. In 2003 Cherry made headlines by criticizing then heavily publicized junior prospect Sidney Crosby for being a "hot dog" because of the way Crosby slid around on his knees after scoring. He also disapproved of a tricky behind-the-net goal the young star pulled off when a game was already out of reach for the team he scored on. He commented on the controversy caused by Alexander Ovechkin's celebration after he scored his 50th goal in 2009.
Cherry is a staunch supporter of women's hockey, and sledge hockey. In 1997, Canada's Women's Olympic Hockey Team paid a tribute to the late Rose Cherry. Canadian Hockey chairman Bob MacKinnon thanked Cherry stating "The growing popularity of the women's game in our country owes a great deal to Don and Rose Cherry... Don has been a strong supporter of the female game since the early 1980s and continues to speak out in favour of women's hockey. It's a pleasure for me, as chairman of Canadian Hockey, to be a part of this tribute to Rose Cherry, who was a keen supporter of female hockey herself."
Over his career on television, Cherry has generated significant controversy about both hockey and politics.
In 1989, he referred to Finnish-born Winnipeg Jets Assistant Coach Alpo Suhonen as "some kind of dog food", triggering the threat of a lawsuit from Jets owner Barry Shenkarow.
In 1994, he surprised many viewers by discussing gay issues in a non-hostile manner during two successive installments of Coach’s Corner. In the first, on June 4, he read from two newspaper articles involving Vancouver writer Daniel Gawthrop’s commentary on the sex appeal of Vancouver Canucks’ “Russian Rocket” Pavel Bure and the “campiness” of Cherry’s on-screen wardrobe. In the second, on June 7, he read a press release from Gawthrop’s Vancouver-based gay hockey team, the Cutting Edges, which thanked him for the free publicity he had provided in the previous installment. Cherry read the release in its entirety, taking time to wish the Cutting Edges good luck at the upcoming Gay Games in New York. In the same segment, however, he took issue with the Cutting Edges for criticizing his suggestion, in an earlier broadcast, that Sikhs who enter the Royal Canadian Legion should observe the Legion’s hats-off policy by removing their turbans.
In 2003, Cherry made comments on his CBC segment in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On March 22, 2003, during Coach's Corner, a heated debate over the U.S.-led war with Iraq took place. Cherry criticized Montreal fans for booing the American national anthem before a game earlier in the week. The conversation then turned to the war when Ron MacLean said "everybody wants to know what you think". Cherry berated MacLean about being neutral on the war and strongly criticized the Canadian government for failing to support the U.S. in the war. Cherry appeared on the American radio program The Jim Rome Show the following week, stating, "You have to realize the CBC is government owned [...] You have to say the government was against [the invasion of Iraq] and I'm for it and I'm on a government program. I really thought this could be the end."
In January 2004, on the subject of visors, Cherry claimed on Coach's Corner that visor users have less respect for player safety and attempted to illustrate his claim by saying : "Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys". This statement triggered an investigation by the federal Official Languages Commissioner, and protests by French-Canadians. CBC consequently imposed a seven-second delay on Hockey Night in Canada. Later on, a study was published that proved Cherry to be half-right: while 50% of Europeans and 40% of French-Canadians wore visors, compared to 22% of North Americans born outside of Quebec, players who wear visors committed proportionately fewer high-sticking penalties than players who do not. Cherry returned to the "Coach's Corner" for the 2005–06 NHL season without the seven-second delay.
After appearing in the Canadian House of Commons on November 7, 2006, he formally stated his support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he called "a grinder and a mucker" by saying "I give a thumbs up to Stephen Harper for sure. He supports the troops and I support the troops."
On December 7, 2010, Cherry attended the inaugural meeting of Toronto City Council, where he placed the chain of office around incoming Mayor Rob Ford's neck. Cherry was asked to say a few remarks and he opened by stating "I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything, I thought I’d get it in." He then went on to state that he had "been ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers out there" and ended saying "And that's why I say he's gonna be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen, as far as I'm concerned! And put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks." Left-leaning councillors were critical of Cherry's speech, and the following day some of them wore pink clothing in protest, including Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's West) and Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), who wore pink scarves while Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) wore a pink suit jacket. Mihevc said, "We all love Don Cherry and his comments and forcefulness in hockey games, but this is council. It’s a political arena where we make it a habit to reach out, talk to others and achieve consensus. To have that kind of, frankly, belligerence and pushing people aside, to start out this way I think is really unfortunate." Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong defended Cherry though he stated that it was "A little over the top" and that "You take it for what it is and you shrug it off and move forward." Cherry defended his comments by stating "Well, what can I tell you? Don’t invite me. You don't invite a pit bull. If you want a pit bull, you get a pit bull."
Cherry is a strong supporter of the Canadian Forces, police officers, and veterans.
In October 2004, the CBC program The Greatest Canadian revealed that its 'top ten' viewer-selected great Canadians included Cherry. Cherry remarked that he would have been inclined to vote for Sir John A. Macdonald (if he had lived in the same time period), who had also been a Kingston resident. He finished seventh in the final tally. Cherry is the only living member of the top 10 greatest Canadians who hasn't been awarded an Order of Canada.
As part of his fame, Cherry has also branched out into some acting roles. He was cast as Jake Nelson in the television series Power Play. Nelson was the coach of the Philadelphia team playing against the Hamilton Steelheads in the playoffs during the first season. Also, he and Ron MacLean provided voices for themselves in the animated television series Zeroman, which starred Leslie Nielsen. He also appeared on an episode of Goosebumps called "Don't Go to Sleep!" where he plays a hockey coach. His voice was also used in Disney's animated feature The Wild, as a penguin curling broadcaster. He also appeared alongside the Trailer Park Boys in The Tragically Hip's video "The Darkest One". His voice was also used in the Mickey Mouse episode "Bad Ear Day", as an ice hockey game announcer.
In 2008, he also appeared on an episode of Holmes on Homes, the widely popular home improvement show. While not appearing scripted, Cherry apparently lived in the neighbourhood and he is shown speaking with Mike Holmes about the construction business and the ongoing project at his brother-in-law's house.
In 1985, the first of a chain of franchised sports bars/restaurants bearing Cherry's name was opened in Hamilton. Cherry started as a partner in the operation and has more recently licensed his name to the chain without holding a significant ownership stake in the company. "Don Cherry's Sports Grill" has locations in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Cherry, who is an advocate of options for pet owners to keep their pets healthy, has also partnered with companion animal organisation Pethealth Inc. to offer Canadians the hockey-inspired CherryBlue Pet Insurance program. Cherry is pictured on cherryblue.ca with his popular bull terrier Blue, for whom the program is named.
Cherry created the Don Cherry Pet Rescue Foundation and donates all profits from his Simply Pets snacks line to animal charities. During the 42nd Canadian Parliament, Cherry, typically a supporter of the Conservatives made a video supporting Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith's ultimately unsuccessful private member's bill that sought to toughen animal cruelty laws.
Cherry has lent his considerable persona to several charitable causes, most significantly, organ donation awareness.
In 1992, Cherry lent his voice to the charity song "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Techno" for Canadian Techno group BKS. On November 14, 2005, Cherry was granted honorary membership of the Police Association of Ontario. Once an aspiring police officer, Cherry has been a longtime supporter of the police services. In his own words, "This is the best thing I've ever had." In June 2007, Cherry was made a Dominion Command Honorary Life Member of the Royal Canadian Legion in recognition of "his longstanding and unswerving support of ... Canadians in uniform". In February 2008, Cherry was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service for 'unwavering support to men and women of the Canadian Forces, honouring fallen soldiers on his CBC broadcast during 'Coach's Corner' a segment of Hockey Night in Canada'.