When Hockey Night In Canada tees up Don Cherry's sideshow during intermissions, it's most often a mix of hockey-related, semi-coherent bombast and blatant sentiment in his invariable tribute to fallen Canadian soldiers. I've often thought the two sides of Cherry's little presentation an incongruous pairing. It's not really, though, when you think about it.
How often to hockey players talk about "going to war" with teammates? Or say "it's a war out there?" Even the terminology entrenched in the game's language is war-related. He fired a cannon. The defence was under enemy attack. The third line plugged away in the trenches. They battled in the corners. In an age when most Canadian, American and European men live in peace and prosperity, playing a game like hockey is the closest they come to experiencing anything approaching warfare.
When a team is looking for the ideal captain, in that light, he has to be someone the players think of as a warrior. He needs to be someone whom others will follow without question. He should be a guy his teammates are a little bit afraid of; maybe someone who's just a tiny bit batshit crazy when needed...a guy who can give errant teammates The Look and have the goods to back it up. He doesn't have to be a star, but he should give his all every night and expect others to do the same. He needs to have the others' backs always, on and off the ice. That's what leadership is about. And maybe that's what Don Cherry is lamenting when he pays tribute to the lost young men of the Armed Forces. Real leaders aren't all that common, and losing one is a sad thing.
If a hockey team is lucky enough to have one, it should recognize him officially. I wonder to whom the Canadiens will give the nod this fall? Who will be the warrior they'll depend on to lead them into battle?