Sunday, July 15, 2007

You crossed his path at your peril!

It’s a sad day for the hockey world with the news of the passing of John Ferguson.

Back in the day, he was the meanest, toughest sturdiest left winger a team could hope to suit up on the centre line. Fearless in battle, Ferguson never backed down from a challenge and created much of the space that a more gentlemanly artist of the game such as a Jean Belliveau would need to weave his magic.

Ferguson was one of those iconic members of the great Habs teams of the sixties, his pitched battles with Bobby Hull the thing of legend as he stood his ground and tried to make sure that the Hull’s, Howe’s, Mikita’s, Keon’s and such found no favours in the Montreal end of the rink.
He was the poster boy for the power forward, long before the term became fashionable, a rock in the Montreal lineup that refused to budge or yield the ice. His playoff scoring abilities the key to many of the Montreal Stanley Cups during that remarkable era for the Habs.

His body checks were bone rattling, his mean streak legendary, but even in the heat of a battle he was admired for his tenacity to task and his willingness to stick up for his team mates regardless of the challenger. He was the unofficial heaveyweight champion of the NHL until the day he retired after eight seasons of battle in the trenches of a very different NHL.

Once his playing days were over, Ferguson moved on to coaching and then managing. He was one of Harry Sinden’s assistants in that legendary Canada/ Russia summit series of 1972. No doubt wishing he could have donned the blades and taken his place on the blue line to put the Russian speedsters in their place in that historic series. His thoughts of the day perhaps the bug in the ear of an impressionable Bobby Clarke who took matters into his own hands during the course of the legendary eight games.

He was beloved in Winnipeg, where he forged a hockey team out of the cold winters of Manitoba that captured that provinces hearts and even though they broke those hearts more often than, the team was created in Fergies likeness. They had skill and toughness and once the early days were out of the way, a visit to the Winnipeg Arena would not be an easy path to two points to the opposition.

He was part of the Ottawa Senators family for a few years, the lean years as it turned out, long before the regular visits to the playoff rounds and the high scoring machine that the Sens became over the last few years. But the seeds were planted during his time there, the players he recruited, scouted and coaxed into signing would eventually form the backbone of the team.

Long considered one of the keenest eyes for talent in the game both as a GM and later on in his duties s a scout for a number of teams. There are any number of teams playing today that have a pool of talent assessed and recommended by Ferguson, he had the knack to find the players that make a difference well beyond goal scoring.

Ferguson finally lost his battle with cancer today, a long and no doubt painful bout that kept him from public view for most of the last year or so. His impact on the game was recounted most recently on draft day as the hockey fraternity offered up their prayers and salutes to the hockey legend.

They are few and far between the ones who have made a lasting impact on the game. Hockey is missing one of its builders today, a strongman who made the transition from player to executive in his own style. He understood the game, what it took to play at the highest level and there are numerous cities along the NHL road map that owe him a debt of thanks for keeping hockey alive wherever he chose to be.

The accolades today will pour in, as they should. For one of the legendary names of the game, a player who left it all on the ice game in and game out. A man who had such a passion for the game that he infected those that worked for and with him.

(Photo above from CP archives through the CTV News website)

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