One of the most recognizable personalities in all of Canada, Don Cherry was a standout defenseman and award-winning coach in the American Hockey League before he ever sat behind the Coach’s Corner desk.
Cherry’s prolific career as a defenseman included 767 games in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, the Springfield Indians and the Rochester Americans, collecting 259 points and racking up more than 1,000 penalty minutes.
The Kingston, Ontario, native signed his first professional contract with the Bears in 1954 and played 63 games as a rookie – plus one playoff contest with the Boston Bruins, in what would be the only NHL appearance of his career. Cherry joined owner Eddie Shore’s Springfield club in 1957 and helped the Indians reach their first Calder Cup Finals in 1958, and then secure their first championship in 1960.
Cherry brought his rock-’em, sock-’em style of play to Rochester in 1963 and the Amerks were soon the class of the league, reaching four consecutive Calder Cup Finals and winning championships in 1965, 1966 and 1968. He settled in western New York after retiring in 1969, and after two years away from hockey he rejoined the Amerks as a player-coach in January of 1972. Rochester finished strong in 1972, qualified for the playoffs in 1973 and then posted the best record in the league in 1974, earning Cherry the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s coach of the year.
Cherry went on to coach the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies in the National Hockey League, and was later a commentator on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for 39 years.