TORONTO -- Sports broadcaster Ron MacLean addressed Don Cherry's dismissal on "Hockey Night in Canada," saying he still loves his former co-host but ultimately had to choose “principle over friendship." 

Speaking directly to viewers for nearly five minutes, MacLean said "Coach's Corner is no more" and laid out his feelings following Cherry’s divisive comments last week that cost him his job.

“We are all hurting. I have collapsed a hundred times, if not more,” MacLean said. “How can you choose principle over friendship? But I had to.”

MacLean made his comments Saturday night during the first intermission of “Hockey Night in Canada” as the Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Noticeably missing were the segment’s traditional fanfare and music.

“You know Don -- defiant. 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 he made his choice and I made mine,” MacLean said.

MacLean said he’d spoken to Cherry in the past week and called him a “fantastic human being,” telling his long-time co-host, “I love you so much.”

He stressed that his disagreement with his co-host did not diminish his respect for him.

“We honour what you’ve meant to the game,” he said.

Sportsnet fired Cherry on Monday after his now infamous “you people” rant, which many felt was critical of immigrants for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

In the wake of the controversy, MacLean apologized for giving a thumbs-up on-air in reaction to Cherry’s comments. MacLean explained that he’d initially felt in a “friendship bubble” and thanked critics for calling him out on his response.

Cherry has not apologized.

At the beginning of Saturday’s show, MacLean said there were “obviously mixed emotions” and called it “the end of an era.”

Sportsnet said it plans to take the long-running segment in a new direction.

Founding host of “Hockey Night in Punjabi” Paraminder Singh said he sees Cherry’s ouster as a moment for growth.

“I think this is an opportunity for Sportsnet and ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ to set the tone that's truly reflective of the diverse viewership of hockey,” Singh said.


Cherry’s ouster was prompted by last Saturday’s segment when the commentator appeared to accuse new immigrants of not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

“You love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price,” Cherry said, emphasizing the “you” with repeated finger jabs at the camera.

During Cherry’s rant, MacLean nodded along and offered a thumbs up at the end. After widespread anger and condemnation, MacLean eventually apologized and called his co-host’s words “hurtful and discriminatory.”

Shortly after Cherry’s comments, Sportsnet issued a statement condemning him.

“Don's discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network," Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley said in a statement.

The 85-year-old former NHL coach has a long history of making controversial statements. Some of his rants have targeted the Indigenous community, women at hockey games, “left-wing pinkos,” climate change and players from Europe and Russia.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Vanessa Lee