Don Cherry speaks to the Sun on Thursday March 1, 2012 at the Coaches Corner set at the CBC building in downtown Toronto.
Credits: MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY
Forget the Battle of Ontario. This is the battle for Ontario.
And it's a barn burner.
An old fashioned donnybrook, in fact.
"You want to get me off? You want to take me on?" Don Cherry said of Leafs General Manager Brian Burke on Coach's Corner Saturday night. "Two years ago you said you were going to do something to me in the playoffs. Remember that? And I said, 'Oh Brian Burke I'm shaking in my boots. I'm shaking right now. Do your best.'"
Another Cherry bomb.
For Grapes, the battle stems from the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs do not have one player from Ontario currently on the roster.
For GM Burke, a loud and bombastic failure so far in his first three years at the helm despite tens of millions spent, it may end up being a battle to keep his job.
It's a heavyweight prize fight.
Perhaps Burke can "rent a barn" at Riverdale Farms, like he suggested he wanted to do to settle a heated grudge match he had a few years back with Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe?
The problem is -- as fighting goes -- Cherry had 1,343 professional penalty minutes over 16 years in the minor leagues where Burke had 60 penalty minutes in just one season.
Their first two rounds were hot. The third round is steaming.
In January, Burke admitted he had "quietly and professionally" gone to Cherry's CBC superiors to complain about what he called "vicious and cutting" attacks during Coach's Corner against his coach and players.
Cherry took exception to him going "behind my back" -- saying it's "quite obvious" Brian is "trying to deflect from his team's performance missing the playoffs three years running at my expense and to be a hero to his players at my expense."
The temperature rose a few more degrees Saturday when Cherry called out Burke for both his lack of Ontario players and his going after his job.
"Here is what kills me," Cherry said. "Burke goes to my bosses and says I am a bad guy because I said something vicious about his coach; two weeks later he fires him? Figure that one out folks!"
But it was the surprising fact that there are currently no Ontario players being iced that was one right to the kisser of Americanborn, dual-citizen Burke.
"Every team in the National Hockey League has a guy from Ontario except one. Guess who it is? It's Ontario's Toronto Maple Leafs," said Grapes. "Now if you want American college guys; if you want Americans you got the team."
As a Maple Leafs season ticket holder, Cherry said "we pay his salary from Ontario" and to "not make the playoffs for three years in a row, probably not four and not have one guy from Ontario is a crime as far as I am concerned."
Forget the barn. To the woodshed.
Self described "vindictive" but other times big-hearted Burke did not seem to respond Sunday -- fresh off his first win in a month with his new, Ontario-born, coach Randy Carlyle. He eventually patched up the feud with Lowe without any barn rental and will likely have no choice but to do the same with Cherry since going behind a guy's back for his job in hockey is not honourable.
Even though Burke's defenders say he has drafted, and his developing many Ontario players, his detractors say Ontario players like Nazem Kadri and Mike Zigomanis should be in the lineup now instead of overpaid and underachieving team members who are not from these parts.
The bench-clearing brawl that ensued has gone viral.
"I thought Don was superb," said former Toronto Sun hockey columnist and Hockey Night in Canada commentator Al Strachan. "For the most part, the Toronto media corps, that is supposed to be so demanding, has given Burke -- or "Burkie" as they almost universally call him -- a free ride. His inconsistencies are ignored; his gaffes are written off; his arrogance is forgiven and his general ill temper is accepted as a somehow acceptable personality trait."
Strachan added Burke "has had great success browbeating the superiors of those who disagree with him and (allegedly) getting them fired but he tried it once too often when he went after Cherry. Unfortunately, very few in the Toronto media have had the fortitude to examine what Burke really is and to stand up to him. Don did that on Saturday night and it was great to watch."
Watch Charles Alder tonight at 8PM ET/7PM CT for more of Joe Warmington's take on the drama between Don Cherry and Brian Burke.