Pointing out that Don Cherry is embarrassingly ethnocentric is a little like saying “water is wet” or “the Leafs are not going to make the playoffs.” It’s pretty much just a given at this point. Canadian hockey fans are used to Cherry complaining about Canadian teams not having enough Canadian players. But last Saturday, Cherry went a step further, railing against Brian Burke for not having any Ontario-born players on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Chances are you’ve seen the video, because it is the most ludicrous thing Cherry has said in recent memory (which is saying a lot) and many, many people are poking fun at Cherry’s super-extreme-ethnocentrism. One thing that people are missing, however, is that Cherry is wrong. The Leafs do have players from Ontario. It’s just that they’re not good enough at hockey to play in the NHL.
With this screed, Cherry is starting to sound like a Birther. If the Leafs did have an Ontario-born player in the lineup, I’m worried that he’d start demanding to see the birth certificate and rant that he’s a secret-French-Canadian.
One of Cherry’s sub-claims is that Burke “has all Americans. He has American College guys that play for him right now.”
I suppose the three players from Saskatchewan, five from Alberta, and one from BC, Manitoba, and Quebec just aren’t Canadian enough for Grapes. That’s a grand total of 11 Canadians currently on the Leafs active roster, including the recently called up Jay Rosehill. That means the Canadians outnumber the Americans, of which there are 7 on the active roster.
Let’s also ignore the fact that Tim Connolly, though he is American, actually played his junior hockey in Ontario for the Erie Otters of the OHL.
But let’s ignore how wrong Cherry is about that for the moment and deal with his main claim that the Leafs don’t have any players from Ontario. While they may not have any Ontario-born players on the active roster, they have 15 in the system. Certainly, some of them are young prospects still in Junior, but others are old enough to be in the NHL, but are instead playing for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL or worse, for the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
For instance, there’s Tyler Brenner, the 23-year-old right winger from Linwood, Ontario, just a couple hours outside of Toronto. This is his first full year of professional hockey, so it might be too much to expect him to be on the Leafs right now, but it’s certainly disappointing that he got sent down to the ECHL. Of course, the Leafs signed him out of the NCAA, so he’s pretty much just another American College guy, right Cherry?
Well, how about 23-year-old Richard Greenop, from Oshawa, Ontario? Burke was pretty eager to get Greenop signed to a contract back in 2009, inviting him to training camp, then signing him four days before camp started. Excited to sign a player from Ontario? That can’t be right. Wait, Greenop is unlikely to ever be more than an AHL enforcer? Still, it’s a good thing Burke got a big, strong Ontario boy inked to a contract.
How about an older player, like the 26-year-old Ryan Hamilton who is also from Oshawa. Burke traded the American-born Robbie Earl to the Minnesota Wild for the native Ontarian, which doesn’t make any sense. Burke doesn’t trade away Americans and he certainly doesn’t acquire Ontarians. While Earl is now playing in Europe, he at least played 38 games for the Wild. Hamilton has yet to suit up even once for the Leafs.
Then there’s 24-year-old Simon Gysbers from Richmond Hill, Ontario, who also played in the dreaded NCAA. Gysbers has good size, was the Marlies highest scoring defenceman last season, and is set to do so again this season with 26 points in 52 games. Darn it all, if he wasn’t from Ontario, Burke might be able to find a spot for him on the team next season.
It would be far too inconvenient for Don Cherry to bring up Nazem Kadri, who was born in London, Ontario and was Burke’s first ever draft pick as GM of the Leafs. Heck, he’s even played in 19 games for the Leafs this year, but was sent back down to the Marlies because the Leafs are – gasp – being patient with him. But it’s hard to blame Don Cherry for missing Nazem Kadri: that certainly doesn’t sound like the name of a good ol’ Ontario kid.
The Leafs even have an Ontario-born player in the organization with 197 games of NHL experience. It’s just that the player is 31 years old and his name is Mike Zigomanis. No offence meant to Zigomanis – he’s a solid AHL forward – but his Ontario blood just isn’t enough to earn him a spot with the Leafs.
It’s almost like what determines whether you make it in the NHL is your skill and not where you were born.
Ironically, Cherry’s tone-deaf, illogical rant came just one day before Brian Burke and his son, Patrick, announced their campaign against homophobia in hockey, You Can Play, with a video featuring numerous NHL players stating the simple truth: “If you can play, you can play.” It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, the truism remains the same.
It also doesn’t matter what country you are from, or what province: if you can play, you can play.