5 People Who Could Take Don Cherry’s Place And Better Reflect Canada

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Don Cherry’s Remembrance Day dismissal could well be a watershed for the future of hockey in this country.

Almost a quarter of Canadians are visible minorities, and just over half of this country’s population is female, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the average NHL game or the broadcasts that surrounds it.

READ: Brian Burke Is Currently The Most Favoured Replacement For Don Cherry

The furor around Cherry’s racist comments continues, snaring hockey icon Bobby Orr who defended his old coach and friend, saying Cherry’s not a bigot and that his firing was “disgraceful.”

Jessica Allen, co-host of CTV’s The Social  has also become embroiled in the Cherry controversy. She (and CTV) has apologized for calling hockey players “white boys” and “bullies”.

If the powers-that-be at Rogers and Sportsnet get the next hiring right – whether they want to stick with the same intermission format or not – it could usher in an era of hockey where skilled players are revered and respected, not reviled and rebuffed.

Consequently, here are five possibilities to replace Cherry and drive hockey, and the media machine that surrounds it, into the future and the Canadian reality:

Paul Kariya

Born in Vancouver to a Japanese-Canadian father and a Scottish-Canadian mother, Kariya was one of the more skilled players to emerge following the 1994-95 NHL lockout.

The fourth overall pick in the 1993 NHL draft, Kariya’s career never quite lived up to the expectations placed on him coming into the league, where his style of play drew comparisons to Wayne Gretzky. One of those comparisons was how the relatively diminutive Kariya would handle the heavy-handed attention thrown his way, while referees, coaches and the NHL seemed happy to look the other way.

While he did his best, concussions eventually got the best of him, causing him to walk away from the game at just 35.

Though he is not fond of the limelight, the few times Kariya has done media work, he has offered up thoughtful, cerebral takes on the game. As someone who thrived in an up-tempo, highly skilled offense (accentuated perfectly by scoring the opening goal in the 2002 Olympic gold-medal game), giving Kariya a pulpit to extol the virtues of everything our national sport could be if only the power-brokers would let it seems like an opportunity too good to pass up.

READ: Don Cherry Fired Over Despicable “You People” Rant

Hayley Wickenheiser

She may not have plied her trade in the NHL, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

More than most, one of the most decorated Canadian Olympians of all-time tried almost everything to break through the glass ceiling on women’s hockey, playing with men’s teams in both Finland and Sweden.

Wickenheiser embraced her role as greatest female hockey player in history, encouraging more girls to take up the game and saw the female side of the sport grow exponentially during her playing career.

She’s being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in honour of all she has given the game on a global and national level.

Playing a version of the sport which embraces the speed and skill, with zero tolerance for fighting, Wickenheiser knows all about showcasing everything that makes hockey great. And none of those things involves dropping the gloves.

Scotty Bowman

Here’s an idea: put a coach on Coach’s Corner or the first intermission who actually wants to talk about the game instead of, “Remember [x amount of time ago] when I said [something, anything] and [since have been proved right in the last week].”

Bowman’s recent appearance on W5 with Rick Westhead to talk about his career and his recent book, Scotty, showed he has lost none of the sharp brain that made him the most successful coach in NHL history.

But he wouldn’t have been if he hadn’t shown a willingness to adapt to a changing game. The style of hockey that won in the 70s wouldn’t have won in the 80s, and that style wouldn’t have won in the 90s.

His ability to employ an all-Russian unit with the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-90s, for example, showed an ability to think outside the box (a rarity in NHL head-coaching circles), and that move paid dividends in the shape of the final three of his eight Stanley Cups.

Bowman is the embodiment of a walking, talking hockey encyclopedia, and at 86 (one year older than Cherry incidentally), giving him the opportunity to pass on that knowledge to future generations would be to the benefit of all.

Roberto Luongo

The son of Italian immigrants, the recently retired all-star goaltender grew up in Montreal, and was part of the goalie factory that erupted there in the wake of Patrick Roy Hall of Fame career.

A winner on the ice – his 489 wins are the third-most in NHL history, behind Roy and Martin Brodeur – Luongo endured his share of controversy during his career.

Principally, he became such as influential leader during his time with the Vancouver Canucks that the team saw fit to make his the first goaltender to serve as an NHL captain in 59 years. Though that experiment was short-lived, it showed the regard in which Luongo’s opinions and attitudes were held by his teammates, and much like so many other modern hockey players, he didn’t pay much heed to the “code” of hockey that has marked the game for so many decades.

His personality has come out through his use of social media, as well as during numerous TV appearances, and just importantly, he is not afraid to poke fun at himself in the process.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE

P.K. Subban

Few active players seem to understand hockey’s role as part of the entertainment landscape as well as the former Norris Trophy-winning defenceman.

The 30-year-old Toronto native genuinely seems to love his career and seemingly wears an ear-to-ear grin almost every minute of it.

It’s a refreshing change to the funereal atmosphere embraced by so many of his colleagues in the sport, who seem to approach each game with all the enthusiasm of attending a wake.

As the son of two Caribbean immigrants to Canada, Subban and his two hockey-playing brothers grew up in Rexdale, and while he is the most prominent of the three, it isn’t all to do with his on-ice success, of which there has been plenty.

Subban has been criticized in NHL circles and dressing rooms for his brash, self-absorbed personality, highlighted by his sartorial sense of style, which he takes great pride in.

If the criticism is warranted – and there are numerous doubts surrounding its veracity – it sounds like he already has everything he would ever need to be a runaway hit on HNIC.

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