Growing up a Boston Bruins fan, I developed a healthy hatred for the Montreal Canadiens at an early age. But although I hated the Habs as a team, I grew to respect several of their players from those days. How could anyone hate the classy and reverent center Jean Beliveau? And you had to love the sight of Yvon Cournoyer blazing down the ice with his hair flapping in the breeze. Ken Dryden broke my heart in the 1971 playoffs, but geez the guy was good. And big. (And, to be fair, he had a hell of a defense in front of him.)
Then there was John Ferguson. Big bad John. He was a tough guy’s tough guy, one of the most competitive players ever to lace up the blades. He played with snarl, grit and a mean streak as big as his heart. He was the fiercest fighter of his day, and I can’t recall anyone ever beating him. Mostly, opponents avoided him. Fergie’s reputation alone was more than enough deterrent on most nights. His mere presence in the bleu, blanc et rouge ensured a wider berth for finesse types like Beliveau, Cournoyer and Henri Richard.
Fergie only played eight seasons and 500 games in the league, but he was legendary. He stayed in the game after he retired, serving as a coach, general manager and a scout. His son John Jr. currently manages the Maple Leafs.
We in the hockey world knew Fergie was sick, and we were all hoping and praying for his recovery. At the draft this summer, the San Jose Sharks (for who Ferguson worked for the last 11 seasons) contingent mentioned at the podium that Fergie was not in attendance and that their thoughts and prayers were with him. I remember being a bit stunned by that, for in my youth I had seen Fergie as an indestructible force.
John Ferguson died on Saturday, losing perhaps the only fight he’d ever lost, to prostate cancer. He was 68. The hockey world is poorer for his passing, and our sympathy and condolences go out to his family and large host of friends.
I didn’t know him other than to nod and say hello when our paths crossed, but Saturday’s sad news brought many great written tributes to him. On a sweltering summer day in mid-July, you could do much worse than read these heartfelt testaments to a great guy who played in a much different NHL than the one we now know.
Red Fisher, Montreal Gazette
Dave Stubbs, Montreal Gazette
John McGourty, nhl.com
Bob Duff, Windsor Star
David Pollak, San Jose Mercury News
Ed Willes, Vancouver Province
Kent Gilchrist, Vancouver Province