By Terry Doyle
The coach known for his colourful jackets and high-collared shirts is making his return to the Canadian Hockey League's marquee event for NHL draft-eligible players. Don Cherry will be behind the bench at the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax on January 16.
This event will mark Cherry's 14th time coaching the team of top prospects that bears his name. One of the original builders of the event, his view of the game was set at the inaugural event in 1996 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto behind the bench for a squad that included soon-to-be top pick Chris Phillips and NHL star Daniel Briere.
"I thought it would be an exhibition game…a few jokes…like most All Star Games. We'll have a little fun, kids will be laughing," explained Cherry.
"I walk in, there are about 400 scouts, for these kids this was the seventh game of the Stanley Cup. They were ready to go - there is no fooling around. You'd think there would be a lot of laughing, and joking going on, the whole two-three days they are ready to go. It's been that way ever since."
Cherry will once again be joined by his friend and former teammate Brian Kilrea – the winningest coach in CHL history – behind the Team Cherry bench. In addition to Kilrea, longtime 67’s assistant coach Bert O’Brien will join the pair, as will Sportsnet hockey analyst Nick Kypreos who played for the OHL’s North Bay Centennials from 1983-87 before winning a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994. When they prepare their team for the game, players are reminded to play the game the same way they do during regular season games for their CHL club.
“They don’t want you to hang back at the blueline, backcheck like crazy. They want to see your skills. Go out there and show them,” added the former Boston Bruins Head Coach. “If you’re a banger, be a banger. If you can score goals, go out there and be a goal scorer. Don’t hang back, don’t change your game. (The NHL teams) want to see the talent.”
“But don’t be in awe, some of the kids, it takes them a whole three or four shifts, or a period to get them rolling. When you go out there, whatever you do, do it to your best.”
During his involvement with the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Cherry has seen a star-studded lineup of players come through before going on to play in the National Hockey League. The 2003 event held in Kitchener, ON, comes to mind as one of the best groups of all-time.
"The guys I had, Phaneuf, Perry, Getzlaf, Horton. It was a National Hockey League (team) - goalie Marc-Andre Fleury."
Cherry’s coaching opponent at the 2013 event will be former NHL forward Mike McPhee, a Halifax-native.
“I’m honoured to coach the Orr team; I was a Bobby Orr fan growing up. I’m also honoured to coach against Don. One of my former coaches Pat Burns said you never underestimate your opponent – and I won’t underestimate Don. He’s done so much for hockey in Canada and the world that it’s an honour for me to coach against him.”
Cherry will be looking for win number six in his tenure behind the top prospects’ bench, last winning in 2010 led by Player of the Game and top pick Taylor Hall.
For more information including rosters for the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, please visit www.homehardwaretopprospects.ca.