TORONTO – It will be a new-look “Hockey Night in Canada” next season but with the same, old Don Cherry.
The colourful former NHL head coach will return for a 29th season of his popular Coach’s Corner segment, along with sidekick Ron MacLean. The two were unveiled Monday as part of broadcast team assembled by Rogers, which acquired the Canadian NHL rights in November for $5.2-billion over 12 years.
Cherry has become a television icon on Coach’s Corner, which was first broadcast in 1980, for his sometimes eccentric wardrobe and outspoken nature. And the 80-year-old says he has no plans to change.
“Never,” Cherry said emphatically. “Right off the bat, I told Scott (Sportsnet president Scott Moore), ‘Don’t expect me to change because after all these years I’m not going to change.’
“I don’t know how to change, to tell you the truth.”
CBC personality George Stroumboulopoulos will anchor Rogers’ NHL coverage. That will include hosting the Saturday night broadcasts, a task MacLean handled for nearly 30 years when “Hockey Night in Canada” was solely a CBC entity.
In addition to co-hosting Coach’s Corner, MacLean will remain involved in the annual “Hockey Day in Canada” show while also appearing on Sunday night telecasts.
Daren Millard and Jeff Marek round out the Sportsnet team.
The mega deal also includes a four-year sub-licensing agreement with CBC. That’s allowed Hockey Night to survive but with Rogers running the show but Cherry, for one, isn’t concerned with all the recent changes.
“Doesn’t bother me one bit at all,” Cherry said. “When I coached the Boston Bruins, it was, ‘Hey, you just worry about your job, don’t worry about anybody else’s.’
“Hey, if they screw up the rest, that’s their fault, it’s not my fault. I know one thing, Coach’s Corner will be the same.”
Monday’s announcement was the first major personnel shuffle since Rogers acquired the Canadian NHL broadcast rights, but Cherry isn’t expecting the communications giant to make wholescale changes.
“Why ruin a good thing?” he said. “We’ve got a good thing going, everybody watches us and I don’t think they’ll fool with it too much.
“I know one thing, they won’t fool with Coach’s Corner, and that’s the main thing isn’t it?”
Cherry has landed in hot water on Coach’s Corner over the years, be it for his staunch support of fighting in hockey, calling superstar Sidney Crosby a ”hotdog” or stating he didn’t believe female reporters belonged in a men’s locker-room. However, Cherry said he never worries about his comments ultimately costing him his job.
“No, I’ve never dreamed how they could get rid of me,” he said. “I never think that way.
“If you start worrying about your job, you’re in trouble, which I am not. What would they do without me?”
Cherry is under contract to co-host Coach’s Corner at least through the 2015-16 season. Cherry said he was initially offered a four-year deal but has always signed two-year contracts and was content to keep it that way.
“That’s the way I like it,” he said. “If they don’t want me at the end of two, then I can leave . . . but the way I feel now I feel terrific and I look terrific.”
But even Cherry has trouble explaining his immense popularity within the hockey community.
“I have no idea,” he said. “If I did I’d probably screw it up.
“I don’t think of myself as a performer, I’m just an old hockey player who got lucky. I’m not like MacLean, I’m not professional . . . I try not to be professional because once you get too smooth you lose something.”
Cherry also has some sage advice for Stroumboulopoulos.
“You have to be honest,” he said. “With the camera, you can’t lie.
“I’ve seen guys come and go but you can’t fool the public. My only advice is be yourself.”