Dave Stubbs: Don Cherry was wrong to take shot at Habs’ Brandon Prust


Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gets a push to the face during a break in play by Canadiens’ Brandon Prust in Montreal on Saturday.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gets a push to the face during a break in play by Canadiens’ Brandon Prust in Montreal on Saturday.

Photograph by: Peter Mccabe, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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MONTREAL — There’s quite a bit I respect about Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry — his longevity, the iron conviction he has in his strong opinions, his fierce pride in and support of Canada’s military, his popularity that seems to know no bounds.

Grapes takes and returns my calls. We’ve had many terrific conversations about the game; I don’t think I’m one of the “dumbhead” reporters — a noun he created — to which he referred during a recent rant about his distaste for a joyful goal celebration by Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, even though his opinion is 180 degrees removed from mine.

Believe it or not, Cherry has great respect for the rich history of the Habs, no matter that many of his detractors charge that it’s terribly biased black-and-gold blood of the Boston Bruins, or the blue-and-white of his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, coursing through his veins.

All of this said:

Don Cherry’s shredding of Canadiens forward Brandon Prust during his Coach’s Corner soliloquy Saturday was wrong, it was misinformed, and it was wildly hypocritical.

To summarize: during a TV timeout 17:02 into the second period of Saturday’s 2-1 Canadiens overtime loss to Tampa Bay, the visitors up 1-0 at the time, Prust skated into Lightning ice to within jawing distance of goaltender Ben Bishop.

The two exchanged words, Bishop cutting diagonally more in the direction of the penalty box than to his own bench, Prust in front of him.

And then all hell broke loose. Bishop skated into the stick of Prust, taking the blade without much force in the groin, then threw a trapper-glove punch at the Canadien. Prust responded with a cross-check to the goalie’s chest, which was met with a blocker punch and instantly the involvement of everyone on the ice as the ice-cleaning crews took their shovels and pails and scrambled for safety.

Here’s how Prust described the rhubarb, speaking in an empty Canadiens dressing room long after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets:

“I jumped (over) the boards because our line was on next (following the TV timeout). Bishop was complaining to the ref about Danny (Brière) giving him a little whack or something. He came to the same corner as me and I just said: ‘Will you quit whining? Shut up and play the game. Quit whining.’

“He started saying: ‘Eff you, eff you,’ and I said: ‘Eff you, eff you,’ then he came at me pretty fast. I wasn’t going out there thinking: ‘I’m going to fight their goalie and start a bench brawl,’ I was down there in the corner telling him to shut up. He didn’t like that.

“By that time we were going back up the ice, still chirping, he came right at me so I kinda put my stick up to stop him from getting to me. … I thought he was going to sucker-punch me … he has a long reach so I had to keep my distance. I guess I fired him up with some of the things I said and he wanted to (fight).”

Prust said he had finally lost patience with what he said was Bishop’s endless harangue at the referees.

“On the bench, you could hear him yelling all the time,” Prust said. “I’m thinking: ‘What is this guy’s deal? Shut up, willya?’ He was screaming at players and refs. I saw him whine to the refs a couple of times, so I told him to just quit whining.”

When the dust settled, 26 minutes of penalties had been called:

To the Canadiens, two to Prust for unsportsmanlike conduct, two to goalie Carey Price for leaving his crease (in fact, for having skated over into the Lightning corner from his own bench, where he was taking a drink during the break) and a 10-minute misconduct to George Parros.

To the Lightning: two to Bishop for leaving his crease and a misconduct to defenceman Radko Gudas.

Fast forward a few hours to the first intermission of CBC’s telecast of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Ottawa Senators game, and Cherry opening his Coach’s Corner segment alone on the set, co-host Ron MacLean appearing by satellite from Sochi.

Cherry drew immediate reference to his five years of coaching the 1970s Boston Bruins, known during their time as the big, bad, take-no-prisoners Bruins:

“You know, folks, when I coached, we used to hold the goalies in reverence,” Cherry began. “Many’s a time (Habs goalie Ken) Dryden killed me, and (Philadelphia’s Bernie) Parent.

“Watch this — Prust goes at a goaltender,” he continued, video of the incident rolling. “Now Prust has got five goals, he goes at a goaltender. And he spears him. He spears him! What in the world would he go down at a goaltender like that for and he said he did it because he was whining to the referee. …

“I used to like Prust. You got five goals. … That is absolutely ridiculous, that a guy would go down … and do that. And you know why they do it? Because they don’t have to pay the price. A big defenceman would go up and straighten him out.

“That’s not hockey, that’s a disgrace as far as I’m concerned.”

Cherry adores fellow Kingston, Ont., native Doug Gilmour, the Maple Leafs Hall of Famer who made a career out of getting into the grills and between the ears of opposing goalies. He loves the sandpaper Bruins he coached, who would stop at pretty much nothing — like their coach — to turn the tide of a game, psychological warfare a time-honoured part of hockey.

Cherry also has undying respect for the underdog, the Canadian kid who’s made it to the NHL against all odds. Like Prust, a walk-on with the London Knights of the Ontario junior loop who has scratched and clawed for everything in hockey with a tool box filled more with rusty wrenches than fine instruments.

And Cherry has made a handsome profit over 25 years with his “Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Hockey” videos glorifying thunderous hits and wild mayhem on ice.

So Grapes carves up Brandon Prust for yapping at a goalie?


Prust was sitting at home Saturday watching the Leafs-Senators game and fully expected that Cherry would bring up the incident.

“Don’s usually a fan of kind of old-time hockey,” Prust said. “But what he said seemed kind of out of character for him. He usually likes stuff like that. …

“If that’s a Leaf or a Bruin back when he was coaching, he’d probably have loved it, right?”

Prust chose not to respond on Twitter, the Internet’s instant-reaction forum. But a few teammates immediately did, including Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and P.K. Subban.

“Heard what Don Cherry said about (Prust),” Gallagher tweeted. “Prusty’s a warrior that sticks up for his teammates every game. Take him on my team any day!”

Tweeted Galchenyuk: “(Prust) is 1 of the most honest and passionate players I’ve ever played with. (Cherry) is wrong about him!” adding the hashtag #InPrustWeTrust

From Subban (who took the opportunity to compliment Prust’s girlfriend, Maripier Morin): “(Prust) is a great teammate, good guy, good looking & good looking girlfriend, full package! Love him he’s a beaut!”, followed by #onmyalltimeroster

Prust said, “It was good that they stick up for me,” saying the players texted back and forth following Cherry’s segment. “I guess they’re repaying the favour off the ice.”

What stung Prust the most, perhaps, was Cherry’s dig that the Canadiens sparkplug has five goals this season, by extension making him ineligible for trying to stir up a game.

“Don’s the guy who’s always vouched for guys like me,” Prust said. “So because I have five goals I can’t be a factor in a game? What, a 30-goal scorer can do that and I’m not allowed to do anything? Just sit on the bench?

“His Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em videos, that’s where I learned my hockey, from those. I’ve fought everybody in the league. I haven’t ducked anyone.”

Grapes took a run at the wrong guy Saturday. It’s not the first time he’s done it, and it won’t be the last.

But I’m guessing if Brandon Prust is Doug Gilmour, or Leafs’ Wendel Clark, or any of Cherry’s 1970s blue-collar Bruins, the statue has been commissioned.


Twitter: Dave_Stubbs

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gets a push to the face during a break in play by Canadiens’ Brandon Prust in Montreal on Saturday.

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gets a push to the face during a break in play by Canadiens’ Brandon Prust in Montreal on Saturday.

Photograph by: Peter Mccabe, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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