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Grapes sorry for trampling trio

Contentious pundit says 'I was wrong'

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BOMBASTIC hockey commentator Don Cherry did something Saturday he rarely does: He admitted he was wrong.

Cherry apologized for comments made about a trio of former NHL enforcers that had them pondering a lawsuit and set off a week's worth of withering criticism of the CBC hockey analyst.

"I gotta admit I was wrong on a lot of things," Cherry said on his Saturday-night Coach's Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada. "Three enforcers -- tough guys, my type of guys -- I threw them under the bus, and I'm sorry about it. I really am."

Cherry, 77, spent almost one-third of his six-minute Coach's Corner segment apologizing for criticism of former tough guys Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson.

On Oct. 6, while discussing whether the tough-guy role contributed to the off-season deaths of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak, Cherry slammed Grimson, Nilan and Thomson, calling them "hypocrites," "pukes" and "turncoats," saying they'd changed their tune on fighting in the NHL.

"The ones that I am really disgusted with, and I hate to say this when the kids are listening... are the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. (They say) 'Oh, the reason that they're drinking, (taking) drugs and alcoholics is because they fight.' You turncoats. You hypocrites," Cherry said on Oct. 6.

He also falsely accused Thomson and Nilan of blaming alcohol and drug problems they experienced after their careers were over on their roles as tough guys.

Cherry's first attempt at clarifying his statements came on Oct. 8. It failed to satisfy Nilan, Grimson and Thomson, who three days later issued a statement through a Nashville law firm that hinted the trio might seek legal means to extract a more suitable apology from Cherry.

That might have come Saturday.

Cherry acknowledged that Thomson and Nilan never said their problems were due to their roles in the NHL and that neither said he wanted fighting banned from the league.

"Chris and Stu never said that they took drugs because they were enforcers in the National Hockey League," Cherry said. "Also, they never said they wanted fighting out of the game, that's for sure.

"I was wrong on that -- 100 per cent wrong -- and when you're wrong, you have to admit it. I'm sorry I put them down."

Nilan, via his Twitter account, said he appreciated the apology.

"I want to thank Don Cherry for standing up and making a public apology to the 3 of us," Nilan wrote. "Means a lot. We are friends once again."

Cherry has been a polarizing figure throughout his 30-year career on HNIC, but the level of criticism from the latest incident was high even by his standards.

Even the CBC, a defender of Cherry through other controversies, backed away from the broadcaster.

"Don's comments reflect his own opinion," Kirstine Stewart, CBC's executive vice-president of English services, said last week.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2011 B7

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