Why I like Don Cherry.....
Of course, I also like him when he is bombastic...
It is when he speaks from the heart that the old hockey coach matters more than ever before.
Cherry would make an abrupt transition toward the end of Wednesday's edition of Coach's Corner. His voice dipped several decibels, while our television screens were filled by the image of Private Tyler Todd, Canada's 142nd casualty in the war in Afghanistan.
Todd was in uniform, and bordered by two Canadian flags. His eyes were bright in the photograph, and his smile slightly crooked. He looked like a kid you might have known in university, or maybe played hockey with. He was not just a statistic.
Cherry told us how Todd grew up on a diary farm in Ontario, and that when he was little boy his favourite thing to do was to try on his grandfather's old army uniform. He told us his mother's name was Bev, and his father, Bryan.
"The troops talk about how [Todd] used to lug around a blanket all the time," Cherry said, his voice wavering, verging on tears. "His Mom had given it to him to remind him of home."
This was not a Peter Mansbridge moment. The trusted CBC anchor was not speaking to the country in a detached, authoritative, newscaster tone. This was a 76-year-old grandfather blubbering away on national television about someone else's son.
Say what you want about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, and think what you will about the value or the folly of the interventionist enterprise, but we are there, or at least a few thousand of us.
It is easy to forget, especially when the spring is upon us, the sun is shining and our everyday lives are happily humming along as we head toward summer. We get up. We go to work, and those with kids can come home and hug them, eat dinner and then gather as a family in front of a good old NHL playoff game.
It is a national ritual. And Hockey Night in Canada is our church. And Cherry, for all his bad suits, bluster, mangled mispronunciations and old, white male dinosaur attitudes, understands that for five or six minutes, he is in the pulpit, commanding the attention of a flock.
In using some of his hockey sermon to speak to the family of a fallen soldier he is speaking directly to us. Reminding us that there are Tyler Todds out there, in a dusty, faraway place, getting up and doing a dangerous job each day and being willing to die for it.
It is staggering to think about. Cherry makes us think. He has been doing it for several years. And it is the most important thing he does. Listening to the emotion in the old coach's voice as he talks about the latest combat death, and seeing a photograph of a young man's face that will never have a chance to grow old, is heartbreaking. If only for a moment, the faraway place suddenly feels very close to home.
"He was a volunteer fireman," Cherry said of the young soldier. "That's the kind of guy [he was]."
He was 26 years old when he was killed.