If you’re in Canada, there are surefire signs that December is upon us. Temperature goes sub-zero, there’s snow on the ground, Christmas trees are going up everywhere and there’s a new “Don Cherry’s Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Hockey” DVD (and now Blu-ray and on demand video) on the shelves. The 2015 edition is number 27, and the annual series has been going on for so long that at one point Cherry still calls them “tapes”. (That’d be VHS for you younger folks)
The program opens with Don Cherry at centre ice at the Air Canada Centre, home of his beloved Maple Leafs, which Grapes (as he is known to his legions of admirers) uses as an excuse to wax nostalgic about the old Maple Leaf Garden. Cherry recalls moments from his career as the Boston Bruins coach that are used as setups for the various segments on goals, saves, hits and fights. It’s too bad no footage of these events is shown as the NHL has released many games from that time period, although it’s entirely possible that their coverage isn’t complete and these moments are lost.
A compilation of footage from the 2014-15 season is a bit of anachronism in the YouTube era when a nice goal scored late in the first period of a game will be available online by the time the puck drops for the second period. Cherry calls out the names of the players involved and sounds utterly bored (or just plain old) most of the time, but he’s most interesting when he’s offering a theme to the footage. One of his regular mantras on Coach’s Corner is that players should always keep their sticks on the ice and he shows a series of goals that illustrates just that. Whatever one thinks of Cherry’s opinions (and dress sense), he knows the game inside out and I wished he did more of that.
Some highlights from his Coach’s Corner aren’t really interesting (even his trademark flamboyant suits are becoming old), but there are plenty of goals, saves and hits (some of them probably suspension worthy) to hold the interest. Cherry’s fascination with “good Canadian hockey boys” brings him to introduce players with the name of their junior team or their hometown which is a little odd and somewhat irrelevant. Very few highlights feature European players as Cherry has been historically very critical of their “fancy” playing style as opposed to less talented grinders he’ll put on a pedestal. Hey, this isn’t called “Rock ’em Sock ’em” for nothing.
The most surprising thing about this year’s edition of “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em” is that the fight section, a perennial Cherry favourite, is relegated to the very end, and only features two bouts, one of them featuring Habs rookie Christian Thomas who’s not exactly known as a tough guy. It’s clearly a sign that fights are on the way out in the NHL when even a dinosaur like Cherry downplays them. As someone who’d rather see talented stick handlers thread the needle while scoring a goal than two players going at it, I can only say “it’s about time!”
The best part of the program is the recap of last year’s playoffs. Every series gets a highlight reel with some context from Cherry, up to the Chicago Black Hawks winning their third Cup is six years. Having a narrative is a nice change of pace and there are plenty of great plays to remember. The series is long overdue for a revamp to adapt to the Internet era, and its low production values are disappointing, but it remains a good stocking stuffer for hockey fans everywhere, or for that gift exchange you were coerced into at the office.
It’s available now on DVD, Blu-ray and Rogers on Demand Video. Despite Cherry’s slip up, it is not available on VHS nor Beta.
Jean-Frederic is one of our music writers but he also shares a passion for hockey. He currently has a crazy plan to see a game in every NHL arena, which he writes about on nhl30.com.