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Sunday, 19 June 2011

TBC: Grapes

In continuing the honours for the Bruins and my Dad, I had the pleasure of reading a book that I could not put down. As you're probably aware, Don Cherry is quite the entertainer when he's on CBC's Hockey Night In Canada in his Coach's Corner segment. I've learned that Dad hates missing Grapes over the years because he loved the Bruins when Don Cherry was coaching them. Thanks to Dad, I thought it might be a good idea to check out Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey, written by Don Cherry and Stan Fischler, and published by Prentice Hall Canada back in 1982. This book is an absolutely masterpiece because it feels like Don Cherry is actually telling you these stories while sitting with you over a couple of beverages! I honestly found myself chuckling at a number of stories in this book simply because of Cherry's ability to tell a great tale.

While we all know Donald S. Cherry quite well, Stan Fischler deserves a little recognition in his own right. Fischler is probably best known in the New York region for his work on the MSG network during Islanders, Devils, and Rangers games. Known as "The Hockey Maven", Fischler has written over 90 books to date about his two passions: hockey and the New York subway system. His most recent hockey book, Metro Ice: A Century of Hockey in Greater New York, was published in 1999, and is all about the Islanders, Devils, and Rangers. His most famous book on subways is Uptown, Downtown, published in 1979. His wife, Shirley, is a co-writer on a lot of his books, and he was the 2007 recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy. Fischler is a very accomplished writer!

If there was one thing I noticed about Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey, it was that it could have been used as the historical piece for the CBC's production of Keep Your Head Up, Kid - The Don Cherry Story. Cherry talks about all of the great moments in his life - being named as coach of the Bruins, winning Calder Cups with the Rochester Americans, and all of the great players and people that he had the pleasure of meeting throughout his travels. He also speaks of some of the more contentious moments like his firings, his dealings with coaches and management as a player, and the difficulties of being a career minor-league player.

In the book, Cherry talks of his time as a player with the Hershey Bears, his very tumultuous time under Eddie Shore when he was part of the Springfield Indians team, his era in Quebec as a member of Trois-Rivieres (or Three-Rivers as Don calls it throughout the chapter), his short time in Spokane, Washington, and his eventual success in Rochester as a member of the Americans. The chapter about Don growing up in Kingston was especially interesting simply because Don Cherry, the personality, doesn't really talk much about his father who, from his writing, had a great respect for and who he loved very much.

I found the information about his time in Denver as coach of the Colorado Rockies to be particularly interesting. Despite Don's brother, Richard, warning him that the job in Denver might not be the best choice for Don and his style of coaching, Don decided to take the job coaching the lowly Rockies as he wanted the challenge that came with building a team. However, just after agreeing to the job with Colorado, Harold Ballard offered Don Cherry the head coaching job of the Toronto Maple Leafs! Being a man of his word, though, Cherry would not walk away from the Rockies after agreeing to a deal with them. Could you imagine: Don Cherry as the head coach of the Maple Leafs?!? It almost happened!

However, Don found out that not all in Denver was rosy. In fact, he and General Manager Ray Miron started off on the wrong foot when it comes to hockey sense and hockey knowledge. Cherry writes,

Sonn after we arrived in Denver, Ray Miron invited us over for dinner. It was an enlightening experience. We had a pleasant enough time at the table and then Ray showed me around the house. When we got to his study, he pulled out a book. The title read: All I Know About Hockey by Ray Miron. He handed it to me, and naturally, I opened it to see what was written. The pages were all blank. There was something very prophetic about that episode which, unfortunately, eluded me at the time.
Poor goaltending, poor draft choices, and poor signings didn't help Cherry's cause in Denver. He did find a few gems in the players that came through the door to the Rockies dressing room: Barry Beck, Lanny McDonald, Rene Robert, and Bobby Schmautz (who Cherry also coached in Boston). Beck, however, would be dealt to the Rangers after the Rockies refused to pay him the money he wanted as their top player. With the few foot soldiers that Cherry had at his disposal, the Rockies struggled, and the owners eventually decided to replace Cherry because they wanted a winner and they felt that he couldn't work with the younger players - a claim that Cherry denies after his success with the Bruins and a number of their young players!

After talking to Dad, a lot of the stories that Cherry tells are ones he wasn't aware of, and that made Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey even more special as Dad is now reading it feverishly. If I enjoyed it, I'm sure Dad will find it to be one of the better reads he has undertaken in the last few years. Dad isn't much for spending a few hours reading, but it seems this is one book that even he's having trouble putting down! Because of the incredible stories that Don Cherry told in Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey and because I can share this book with my Dad who loves Cherry and the Bruins, I have to award Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! Honestly, if you're able to find Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey at your local bookstore or online, I highly recommend it simply for the incredible hockey stories contained on its 222 pages. You won't be disappointed - it's a beauty!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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