The name Don Cherry is synonymous among Canadians with Hockey Night in Canada, but anyone who’s watched an episode of Coach’s Corner knows he’s also an avid supporter of the Canadian Armed Forces.
But the Canadian icon hopes his status as an outspoken and larger-than-life personality helps get the message across when it comes to something else he’s incredibly passionate about; organ donation.
For the second straight season the Edmonton Oil Kings, along with all Canadian Western Hockey League members clubs, will take part in RE/MAX Presents: WHL Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation. Those Canadian teams across the WHL will ‘don’ individually designed, Don Cherry-inspired jerseys as a way to promote awareness for organ donation, as well as raise funds for the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
To unveil their special edition jerseys, the Oil Kings thought what better way to showcase them to fans for the first time but in a way Don Cherry himself would give a thumbs up to – alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces at the Edmonton Garrison.
The Oil Kings had the pleasure of being hosted by members of First Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for the unveiling, which saw players emerge from two of four Light Armoured Vehicles on sight, flanked by members of Charlie company and led by their unit’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel (LCol) Jordan Schaub.
“There is a strong, reciprocal, historical relationship between hockey and your Army of the West,” stated LCol Schaub. “Don Cherry has always been a strong supporter of the Canadian Armed Forces and his dedication to the promotion of support to our troops has had a deep and lasting impact.
“We are all proud to be here in support of the Oil Kings’ partnership with Don Cherry and the Kidney Foundation.”
For some, Don Cherry’s involvement in organ donation promotion is a little known fact, but the story behind it hits close to home for tens of thousands of Canadians nationwide.
When Don was coaching the Boston Bruins in the 1970’s, his son Tim – who was 15 years old at the time – was diagnosed with kidney disease. After a visit to the doctor, Tim immediately went on dialysis. One day Don’s wife, Rose, emphatically decided that a member of the Cherry family was going to donate one of their kidneys to Tim. After testing, it was determined that Tim’s 21-year-old sister, Cindy, was the best match.
“I never realized the seriousness of it all until I saw both of them going down the aisle for surgery,” chronicled Don on the WHL Suits Up to Promote Organ Donation website, CanadaDonates.ca.
“I hadn’t seen the colour (in Tim’s face) in over a year. To see his cheeks rosy red again (after the surgery) was incredible. We thank God every day for it.
“That was 40 years ago, and he’s still going strong.”
The Kidney Foundation of Canada has seen the benefits of Grapes throwing his weight behind organ donation in short order.
“Having a national figure such as Don Cherry bring attention to a significant national health crisis like the need for increased organ donation has created a level of conversation and awareness we’ve never seen before,“ said Kidney Foundation of Northern Alberta Executive Director, Flavia Robles.
“Because of the collaboration between the Cherry family, the WHL and RE/MAX, the Kidney Foundation of Canada has seen transplants increase by 13%, and is in a position to impact more lives than it ever has before.”
For the presenting sponsor RE/MAX, the decision to return for a second season to join WHL Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation was an easy one.
“RE/MAX has been a long-time supporter of organ donation, and we are thrilled to partner with Don Cherry and the WHL to again raise awareness for such an important cause,” said Jolene Langille, Chair, RE/MAX General Advertising Committee.
Last season, Canadian teams across the WHL combined to raise more than $265,500 for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, making it their largest public awareness and fundraising campaign for organ donation.
The Oil Kings knew they wanted this year’s jersey to be something that garnered widespread attention, all while being a look that the fans – and Don himself – would approve of.
“We wanted a design that represents Don Cherry and his iconic style, and that also incorporates our family brand,” said Oil Kings Director of Business Operations, Daniel Troiani. “Our team collectively designed a unique look that would be different than the jerseys worn by all other Canadian WHL teams.”
The jerseys also feature the player’s nicknames on the name bar in place of their last name, similar to what is done during Major League Baseball’s Players Weekend. Complete with matching socks, Troiani hopes the fans will enjoy the look as much as the staff and players do.
“Everyone in the Oil Kings organization and Oilers Entertainment Group as a whole are excited to unveil these jerseys today, and even more eager to see them showcased on the ice before being silent auctioned for this worthwhile cause next Saturday.”
Tickets to the game on Saturday, January 19 at 1:30 PM MT are still available by clicking here, or by visiting OilKings.ca. The game is the first bill of a Battle of Alberta doubleheader which is followed by the Edmonton Oilers hosting the Calgary Flames at 8:00 PM MT at Rogers Place.