Originally published on cbc.ca/sports

With files from the Canadian Press

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean addressed Sportsnet’s firing of Don Cherry during the first intermission of Saturday night’s primetime NHL game — when the duo would normally host “Coach’s Corner.”

MacLean addressed Cherry’s Nov. 9 remarks and the ensuing controversy in a rambling speech, touching on his relationship with Cherry and his decision to go with conviction over friendship.

“Coach’s Corner is no more,” the 59-year-old MacLean said. “We are all hurting. I have collapsed a hundred times this week, if not more. We are all disappointed. Bobby Orr is disappointed in me. Bobby, I’m disappointed in me.

“I’ve sat all week long reflecting listening to you [the viewer] and I have heard you. I’ve reflected by listening to my own heart…and I’ve struggled mightily to find the words.”

Cherry’s nearly four-decade run on Hockey Night ended Monday after he made on-air comments last Saturday which many felt were critical of immigrants for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

“You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said on Nov. 9. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

While MacLean apologized last Sunday for Cherry’s incendiary remarks, he went on to describe his decision to break with Cherry, after 34 years of partnership, as a necessary one.

“There were steps that needed to be taken because of what had been said by Don and he didn’t want to do those steps. So…I decided to go one way and he another. And you say, okay, how can you choose principle over friendship but I had to,” MacLean said.

For its part, Sportsnet has also said they may eventually take the long-running first-intermission segment in a different direction.

Viewers were given a sample during Saturday’s first intermission which also featured a segment with MacLean interviewing Hayley Wickenheiser and Guy Carbonneau, two members of the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class.

The induction ceremony is Monday.

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Wickenheiser also mentioned Cherry in that short, three-minute segment, saying she appreciated that “he was always talking about women’s hockey.”

Sportsnet called Cherry’s remarks from last Saturday “divisive,” and said they “do not represent our values or what we stand for” when announcing his firing on Monday.

On Tuesday, Cherry told CBC News that he sees how he could have made his point differently.

“I think it was a mistake,” he said of his remarks. “But I think the big thing was that I should have said ‘everybody’ — that was the big, big thing.”

Hockey Night in Canada was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a lucrative long-term broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014. “Coach’s Corner” and Hockey Night in Canada are still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licensing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet.

Cherry, a native of Kingston, Ont., joined Hockey Night in Canada in 1980 as a playoff analyst and was so popular that he was kept on as a colour commentator. CBC later created “Coach’s Corner” as a vehicle to showcase Cherry, with MacLean eventually replacing Dave Hodge as Cherry’s sidekick.

Known for his outlandish suits and thumbs-up gesture, Cherry occasionally weighed in on off-ice topics during his popular first-intermission program, and sometimes those views landed him in hot water.

The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council said earlier this week it was so overloaded with complaints after last Saturday’s segment that it exceeded the organization’s technical processing capacity.

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