Don Cherry marks 80th birthday in Russia, of all places 0
Don Cherry and Ron MacLean hold the cover of Wednesday's Toronto Sun marking Grapes's 80th birthday in Sochi, Russia. (Supplied photo)
To Russia with plaid.
Or maybe that should be pink — as in the symbolic pink suit he wore back in 2010 at Mayor Rob Ford’s swearing-in ceremony.
Either way, leave it to Don Cherry to be making news on his 80th birthday Wednesday.
If all went as scheduled, he was to turn 80 in the air on his way to Sochi and land on Russian soil as an octogenarian.
That’s right, perhaps Russia’s most ardent critic, Donald Stewart Cherry, born Feb. 5, 1934, in Kingston, Ont., is celebrating his big birthday in Russia.
Put that in your pipe you pinko, commie, lefty, kooks.
Ford certainly hopes he packed the pink jacket for Sochi.
“I say go for it,” said the mayor. “A pink suit to Russia. That’s funny.”
Ford said he’s sure Cherry will be popular among the Russians and all of the international Olympic-goers.
“Oh my God,” said Cherry’s good comrade, Bobby Orr, in all-out laughter at the thought of him in Russia. “Imagine that?”
Who would have thunk it?
Lenin must be rolling over in his tomb.
Stalin and Brezhnev, too.
“They will not have seen a wardrobe like that, either,” a chuckling Orr said of the Russian population.
Certainly, Russia will not have seen a louder and prouder Canuck visit since Team Canada made its splash there in 1972.
And Cherry’s perhaps the most controversial visitor since the arrival of NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden.
There is no secret on how he — at times over the decades — has felt about Russian hockey players and their once communist politics, too.
They have been on the receiving end of the Wrath of Grapes more than a few times.
“I’ve been trying to tell you for so long about the Russians,” Cherry said after two Russian skiers were caught using performance enhancers in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. “What kind of people they are and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism.”
He has also said Russian hockey “sucks.”
When commenting on Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, Cherry criticized his “goofy stuff” after scoring goals.
Same goes for Evgeni Malkin, whom he called a “talented dog.”
Both players responded by playing better.
“He’s a funny guy and old guy. He likes old-fashioned hockey,” Ovechkin told reporters, hamming it up at the Air Canada Centre in a Coach’s Corner T-shirt and Hockey Night in Canada shorts.
Of course, the most famous rant about Russian hockey came on Jan. 4, 1987, after Canada’s junior team lost the gold medal thanks to a brawl. Cherry staunchly defended the Canadian kids by saying the then-Soviets started the whole thing.
“I never said a Russian is dumb. They are not dumb,” Cherry said in an interview, adding the Russians “had nothing to lose” because their coach ordered his players to provoke Canada into a fight to avoid being “sent to Siberia” to survive on “bread and water.”
It has been such a long love affair between Cherry and the Russians. Now they are going to be together on the same patch of land as Cherry will be at the Sochi Olympics as part of the CBC crew covering the much-anticipated hockey tournament.
Orr said that given his experience in Moscow, he’s sure there will be no animosity towards Cherry from the Russians.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” said Orr. “They are going to love him. He’s going to be big over there.”
Certainly, if you talk to Don privately, he has tremendous respect for the Russian players but is so over-the-top patriotic his bias comes through loud and proud.
The thing I loved about covering Don for the past 23 years is he doesn’t pull his punches. He calls it like he sees it every time and doesn’t care who he upsets. He’s also a classy guy all the way and has done so much in support for the troops, police and all people in uniform that it really is a sham that he has not been bestowed the Order of Canada.
When it comes to the Russians or foreign or domestic players, he simply hates hot-dogging, cheap-shot artists and when out-of-country junior players take the jobs of “good Canadian kids.”
What’s great about Grapes is he believes politically correct is always incorrect.
Orr’s got it right. Don Cherry will be in some pictures and signing some autographs, too, over there in the former Soviet Union.
“They are going to wonder where does he get his clothing?” teased Orr.
Certainly, all of Canada — and Russia too — is going to tune in to see not only what he will be wearing but what Don has to say about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Who knows? By the time he leaves, maybe the Cold War will be back on.