By Perry Lefko
Don Cherry is giving the thumbs up to the men’s and women’s hockey teams that will represent Canada in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Even though the men’s team will be comprised of a bunch of relatively unknown European-based players, some of whom have experience in the National Hockey League (NHL), Cherry believes they will put on a good show. The popular figure of Coach’s Corner says in the absence of NHL players, who won’t be participating in the Games for the first time since 1998, this is a feel-good story for the lineup of players chosen to represent Canada.
“I think Canadians should be as excited as I am because this is their one big chance to represent Canada,” Cherry said. “I can kind of picture it myself that I’d finally get a chance as an American Hockey Leaguer or playing in Europe. They’re the underdogs, that’s for sure, and I kind of like the underdog thing. Let’s face it, we were so good in the last Olympics we could have played 10 games and we wouldn’t have lost a game. I’m really excited about it. I know a lot of people aren’t excited, but I am.
“Ron (MacLean) and I will be into it. We’re going to do every Canadian game and I’m looking forward to it.”
Cherry, the founder, one time owner and coach of the Mississauga IceDogs, says he watched the recent Spengler Cup, cheering on the Canadian team that was comprised of European-based players who won the tournament. Some of those players will be part of the Canadian Olympic roster.
“I was as excited watching the final game of the Spengler Cup as I was the seventh game of the Stanley Cup,” he says. “It’s just a good feel for me. I can hardly wait until it starts. Without being a shill, that’s exactly how I feel.”
Cherry says other countries may choose set lines of forwards and defencemen from their elite leagues, which will be an advantage compared to the Canadians, who are being brought together without having played together.
“It’s a big ice surface, which the Canadian players should be used to, but everything is in the Europeans’ corner,” he said.
Cherry is familiar with one of Canada’s players, Wojtek Wolski, who starred for the Brampton Battalion. Cherry coached Wolski in the 2004 Canadian Hockey League prospects game, pitting 40 NHL draft-eligible players against one another. The 31-year-old, who plays for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, was selected 21st overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2004. He played 491 games in the NHL with Colorado, Phoenix, New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. A year ago, he broke his neck in a game and did not know if he’d ever play again.
“Can you imagine a year ago that he was laying in bed in a neck brace and here he is playing for Team Canada,” Cherry said. “Boy, I’ll tell you if that’s not a Horatio Alger story I don’t know what is. Everybody will be watching him.”
Cherry is also excited about the women’s team. Canada has won the gold medal in the last four Olympics after losing to the United States when women’s hockey debuted at the Games in 1998. The U.S. has also been dominant in the annual World Championships and will be looking to reverse Canada’s fortune in the Olympics.
“The United States has come on so strong and the other nations have come on strong, too,” he said. “It used to be just the two nations beating up on the other teams as much as you want. I’m glad to see the other nations give a good effort. It’s good for women’s hockey that it’s not just two and beating up the other teams 19-0. I would love to see Canada win, naturally, but I’m glad to see there’s a little rivalry there. It’s always great when we play the United States.”