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Cornered Coach: Scattered Thoughts

 

When you're stuck in traffic desperately trying to get your tiny hockey player to the rink on time, you have lots of opportunity to think. So, with that in mind, here are a few of the scattered thoughts on various puck proceedings that have been bouncing around my little old brain.

The Magic of McDavid
News flash: Connor McDavid is definitely the real deal.

I know.

A lot of you are saying, "Thanks for the big scoop, Toth."

But here's the thing.

Because McDavid plays most of his games out west, a lot of old geezers such as yours truly are counting sheep (and trips to the bathroom) by the time the Edmonton Oilers line-up for the face-off. This week, however, McDavid's crew is on an eastern road swing and I made sure to tune in.

Wow!

I'd seen McDavid play a few games in the junior ranks with the OHL Erie Otters, so I obviously knew the kid could play. But seeing him sizzle against NHL talent is even more impressive. The separation McDavid creates with his rocket-like skating ability is amazing to behold and when he reaches warp speed it seems as if the other players on the ice, no slouches in the skill department themselves, are standing in cement. 

Thanks to improved goaltending and stifling defences, McDavid will never come close to approaching the scoring records of Wayne Gretzky. But The Great One is now working in the Oilers’ front office and it's easy to understand why Wayne breaks into a big grin whenever he's asked about McDavid's unique talent. 

Cherry (Still) on Top
I'll never forget the first time I met Don Cherry.

Don was opening one of his restaurants in Calgary and I was assigned to visit the new establishment to interview Cherry for a local television station.

Grapes was his colourful self as he regaled our cameras with tales about coaching his beloved "Big Bad Bruins,” getting an extra twinkle in his eye as he reminisced about the incomparable Bobby Orr. Then, Cherry excused himself to take a trip to the men's room and, just like that, his mood suddenly changed.

"Hey," Cherry shouted to a waiter as he rejoined our TV crew, "There's a rubber machine in the john. Yank it out of there. I'm running a restaurant here, not a bordello!"

Ah, yes.

Don Cherry. A rugged defenceman during his playing days, but a true right winger when it comes to his societal views.

That interview with Cherry occurred back in the early-90's. Earlier this month, Don turned 83 and he's still going strong on "Coach's Corner.” Like many families, watching "Hockey Night in Canada" is a Saturday ritual in our home. To be honest, my two little lads spend most of their time playing mini-sticks while the game is on the tube. But as soon as Ron and Don are ready to work their magic, the kids simmer down and stare at the screen, absolutely transfixed on what Cherry has to say.

It's the same thing among the media. As a broadcaster, I've had the pleasure of covering a number of Toronto Maple Leafs games and, up in the press box, it's a first intermission no-brainer; dozens of media hounds crowd around a tiny television set hanging on every word that come's out of Don's mouth.

The bottom line?

You might not buy into all of Cherry's political takes, but Don is a unique personality with unmatched charisma and, in my opinion, he'll go down as the biggest television star Canada has ever created. 

Playoff Fever
The NHL playoffs are still a number of weeks way. But if you're looking for an early taste of postseason puck, the Canadian University playoffs are already into their second round. As a Toronto native, I've been following the fortunes of the Ryerson Rams. They finished in top spot in the OUA standings this season, but Ryerson has been facing a huge challenge in the playoffs. The Rams came out on top in a tough first round series against Waterloo and Wednesday night, Ryerson dropped the first game of a best-of-three series on the road against the underdog Windsor Lancers. Now the Rams return home, needing a win on Saturday night just to push the series to a third and deciding game on Sunday.

If you've never been to a Rams game, here's your chance.

Ryerson plays their home tilts at Mattamy Athletic Centre, which is the former Maple Leaf Gardens. They've done a wonderful job preserving the history of the old barn, with outstanding photo displays sprinkled throughout the building. On the ice, meanwhile, the Rams have built an outstanding hockey club with more than half of their roster composed of CHL grads. 

Two of my favourites?

Former London Knight Alex Basso, a smooth-skating defenceman who's a master at running the Rams power play, and ex-Kingston Frontenac forward Michael Fine, the hard-nosed Rams captain with a knack for scoring goals when it really counts.

Both guys will have to be on top of their game if the Rams are going to pull off the comeback, with the puck drop at "The Mac" set for 7.15 p.m. on Saturday night. 

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