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2007 07 22c .pdf


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B_03_jul-22-07_grey

7/21/07

5:25 PM

Page b3

C M Y K b3

PERSPECTIVE

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, SUNDAY, JULY 22, 2007

winnipegfreepress.com B3

Ferguson with
Habs linemate
Jean Beliveau
during the 1966
Stanley Cup
playoffs. No slouch
himself at scoring,
Ferguson’s main
job was to create
room for
Montreal’s
superstar
captain.

For the record
Born Sept. 5, 1938 in Vancouver. Ferguson is survived by wife, Joan,
daughters Catherine, Chris, Joanne and son John Jr., now the general
manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Won five Stanley Cups during an eight-year career with the Montreal
Canadiens (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1971). NHL totals are 500 GP,
145 G, 156 A, 303 Pts, 1,214 PIM.
PLAYER STATISTICS:
1959-60: Fort Wayne Comets (IHL) 51 GP, 32 G, 33 A, 66 Pts, 126 PIM.
1960-61: Cleveland Barons (AHL) 62 GP, 13 G, 21 A, 34 Pts, 126 PIM.
1961-62: Cleveland Barons (AHL) 70 GP, 20 G, 21 A, 41 Pts, 146 PIM.
1962-63: Cleveland Barons (AHL) 72 GP, 38 G, 40 A, 78 Pts, 179 PIM.
1963-64: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 59 GP, 18 G, 27 A, 45 Pts, 125 PIM.
1964-65: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 69 GP, 17 G, 27 A, 44 Pts, 156 PIM.
1965-66: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 65 GP, 11 G, 14 A, 25 Pts, 153 PIM.
1966-67: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 67 GP, 20 G, 22 A, 42 Pts, 177 PIM.
1967-68: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 61 GP, 15 G, 18 A, 33 Pts, 117 PIM.
1968-69: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 71 GP, 29 G, 23 A, 52 Pts, 185 PIM.
1969-70: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 48 GP, 19 G, 13 A, 32 Pts, 139 PIM.
1970-71: Montreal Canadiens (NHL) 60 GP, 16 G, 14 A, 30 Pts, 162 PIM.
RECORD AS JETS’ GM:
1978-79 Jets (WHA) 39-35-6, won Avco Cup
1979-80 Jets (NHL) 20-49-11, out of playoffs.
1980-81 Jets (NHL) 9-57-14, out of playoffs.
1981-82 Jets (NHL) 33-33-14, lost in first round.
1982-83 Jets (NHL) 33-39-8, lost in first round.
1983-84 Jets (NHL) 31-38-11, lost in first round.
1984-85 Jets (NHL) 43-27-10, lost Smythe division final.
1985-86 Jets (NHL) 26-47-7, lost division semifinal.
1986-87 Jets (NHL) 40-32-8, lost division final.
1987-88 Jets (NHL) 33-36-11, lost division semifinal.
* 1988-89 Jets (NHL) 26-42-12, out of playoffs.
*Ferguson was fired in October, 1988.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Never missing a chance to promote
the Jets in the community, Ferguson
referees a wrestling match in the
Winnipeg Arena in 1985.

CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Of all his NHL connections, say the
people closest to them, Ferguson most
treasured his years as general manager
of the Winnipeg Jets.

Behind the bench for the first time, Ferguson was Team Canada
assistant coach for the unforgettable summit series of 1972.
Phil Esposito is at bottom left.
CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

RAIG Heisinger, now the Manitoba
Moose GM, described Ferguson as the
quintessential hockey parent: great
away from the rink and a terror during
games.
Heisinger still remembers, as a 26-year-old
trainer for the Jets, the time former defenceman
Mario Marois asked him to lock the dressing
room door after one tough loss for a little privacy.
No one told Fergie, who hit the door in full
flight.
“He just about broke his nose and hand,”
Heisinger said with a chuckle. “I’m not sure what
would have done more damage.”
Many of the philosophies instilled by Ferguson
permeate the Moose franchise to this day,
through Heisinger and former Jet defenceman
and Moose coach and GM Randy Carlyle, who
now coaches the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim
Ducks.
“It was so important for us to do the little
things to make it a good place to play,” Heisinger
said. “That’s still one of the building blocks of our
franchise.”
Players like Carlyle — Ferguson’s most prized
acquisition who arrived by trade late in the 198384 season — became Fergie converts. In fact,
when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup last June,
one of the first calls the head coach made was to
the ailing Ferguson, who must have been bursting
with pride.
Another Fergie rule: Never denigrate the team
in public. That simply wasn’t allowed. The Jets
were Fergson’s team, dammit, and nobody was
going to bad-mouth them.
“He was a very, very loyal,” offered Dave
Ellett, a Jets defenceman (1984-91) during the
team’s most successful seasons. “He was a very
intimidating person and people were probably
initially fearful of him. But when you got to know
him, he was one of the best people I’ve every
come across.
“He was so loyal and protective of his employees, whether it was people upstairs or players.
And when you got there (to Winnipeg) you could
just feel that if you worked hard for Fergie he
would do anything in his power to protect you. I
think, when I was there, that was the reason half
our team lived in Winnipeg (year-round). He created a real family atmosphere.”
Which reminds us of a story told by Foreman,
who a few years back got a call from Ferguson,
who was in a hospital bed in Montreal. He’d just
received an angioplasty to deal with a racing
heart beat. Ferguson had a request, asking Foreman to let Carlyle know before he read about it in
the newspaper. So Foreman called Carlyle, who
was the Moose GM at the time.
As luck would have it, Carlyle just happened to
be in Montreal, too, so he raced to the hospital
and within a matter of minutes arrived in Ferguson’s room.
Carlyle looked at Ferguson.
Ferguson looked at Carlyle.
Barked Fergie: “What took you so long?”

C

HE Jets did excel under Ferguson, eventually. In 1985 and 1987, the Jets
advanced to the Smythe Division finals,
only to lose both times to the dynasty that
was the Edmonton Oilers.
Led by franchise player Dale Hawerchuk,
along with a solid cast that featured Thomas
Steen, Carlyle, Ellett and Paul MacLean, the Jets

T

reached their highest regular season point totals,
but could never seem to escape the powerful
Smythe division. Or Wayne Gretzky.
So it was that on an October night in 1998, team
owner Barry Shenkarow fired Ferguson in a
move many close friends insist broke the man’s
heart.
“It was hard for everybody,” Sutherland said.
“He was the backbone of the whole team. Not
only did it break his heart, but it broke a lot of
hearts of the people involved with the Winnipeg
Jets; management and players, too. I mean, when
he was in Winnipeg, it was one big, happy family.”
Not so happy, apparently, as Mike Smith, whom
Ferguson had hired in New York and brought to
Winnipeg. Smith was widely believed to have
undermined his boss. A few weeks later he
assumed Ferguson’s post.
“That was one of the worst days in Winnipeg
Jets history as far as I was concerned,” Ellett said
from his home in Phoenix, still with a trace of bitterness in his voice. “They never should have got
him out of Winnipeg. End of story. That was the
start of the ticket out of Winnipeg.
“You saw what happened. They traded Dale
Hawerchuk, a person who should have never left
that franchise.”
Echoed McVie: “It was one of the saddest days
(Ferguson) had in hockey. It really took the wind
out of him, you know. Because he built that franchise. Fergie and Mark Cloutier are the reason
the Winnipeg Jets became the Jets of the NHL.”
History records that the Jets would never win
another playoff series after 1987 — a streak that
continues to this day for the Phoenix Coyotes,
where the franchise fled in 1996.
It didn’t help that players who were so unfailingly loyal to their old boss now felt betrayed.
One day in 1991, Ellett was called into Smith’s
office. The GM, who stood casting a gaze over
Winnipeg Stadium, never once looked Ellett in the
eye.
“We’ve traded you,” Smith said.
“We’re am I going?” the defenceman asked.
“Toronto,” Smith replied.
Said Ellett, as he left the GM’s office: “Thanks
for nothing.”
But we digress. As fate would have it, the Jets
played the night Ferguson was fired. Foreman
remembers being at Ferguson’s home, with the
phone ringing constantly. Executives and players
throughout the NHL were calling to offer their
condolences. (Ironically, it was eerily similar to
the reaction in the wake of Ferguson’s death. By
the time the Free Press reached Foreman last
Monday afternoon, he’d already received more
than 150 calls from all over the world from people offering their sympathies and/or wanting
information on the funeral.)
Immediately after the game, Jets players and
staff congregated in Ferguson’s Tuxedo home.
“I’ll never ever forget that,” Foreman said. “It
was a living wake is the best day to describe it.
That wasn’t a very pleasant night.”
Much scotch was consumed. And some cognac.
Fergie was foremost all about going first class.
The end result?
“John Ferguson and Ted Foreman fell asleep
arm-in-arm under their dining room table.
Drunk,” the latter reported, wistfully.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time Foreman
had seen Ferguson devastated. In 1994, Foreman’s wife, Heather, succumbed to cancer. Every
time Ferguson came to Winnipeg while she was
ill, he tried to visit her at the hospital. But

Heather, who was losing weight and hair from
chemotherapy treatments, steadfastly refused to
see him.
“This tiny little Scottish broad wouldn’t let him
in,” Foreman said. “The last time he came to see
her he basically lay across the hood of my car and
cried. That’s how bad he wanted to see her.”
Again, the paradox: Those same fists that so
mercilessly pounded Eric Nesterenko or Eddie
Shack were raining down on the roof of Ted Foreman’s car. John Ferguson lived big. He played
big. He loved big. Nothing would ever change
that.
He’s also the same person who, even after the
cancer spread to his bones last year, refused to
feel sorry for himself. Not so much as a word.
“He never complained once,” said Gobuty, who
spoke to Ferguson regularly over the last year.
“When you spoke to him and asked how he was
doing, he’d say, ‘One hundred per cent.’”
Gobuty, like most who were close to Ferguson,
wasn’t fooled.
“His presence was as a tough guy, but he was a
cinch,” he said. “He was a kind, kind man. People
always thought John Ferguson was a tough guy.
He wasn’t. Behind his facade of the steel eyes and
the tough outlook, he was a very kind man.”
Ferguson was to be the guest speaker at the
Never Alone Luncheon this past April, but he was
too weak to make the trip. Both Foreman and
McVie filled in for their old pal. McVie told the
Bobby Hull story. Everybody howled, of course.
In a letter penned by Ferguson and read by
Foreman, he told of his fondness for the Jets and
Winnipeg.
“For me, hearing those fans yelling, ‘Go, Jets,
Go” meant more than you can ever imagine,” Ferguson wrote.
And towards the end, at least Ferguson could
watch Carlyle’s Ducks claim hockey’s Holy Grail.
“Even when he was getting weaker and weaker... when he was watching (hockey) games or
horse racing on TV, you could see him light up in
bed,” said Long. “That would still get him pumped
up. He was competitive right to the end.”
But like Heather Foreman, Ferguson would see
few visitors in the last month. Not even Foreman.
In late June, Foreman asked Ferguson if he
should travel to Windsor.
“No, don’t come,” Ferguson protested. “Please,
don’t come.”
It was the last time they ever spoke.
And the void of Ferguson’s passing to those he
befriended is only now beginning to be felt. Take
Long, for example, who spent the last two
decades — as a scout in both Ottawa and San Jose
— travelling the world with Ferguson in search of
the next Teemu Selanne.
“There’s not many people in the world you can
call a real friend,” Long lamented. “Somebody
who you could tell some intimacies to or talk
hockey constantly. It really hurts. Now I have no
one to just call up and talk about hockey, really.
Or go for a golf game.”
Shortly before he died, Ferguson and Foreman
were in the hospital room, watching a DVD of the
luncheon in Winnipeg he couldn’t attend. He saw
both of his friends speak on his behalf.
Then Ferguson sat up in his bed and grabbed
Foreman with one of those big hands. The grip
was still there.
“Would you do me one more favour?” Ferguson
asked.
“Anything,” Foreman replied.
“Would you do my eulogy?”

Foreman broke down.
“I absolutely lost it,” he said. “But I got myself
together and said, ‘It would be an absolute honour, my friend.’”
It was one of the most heartbreaking, beautiful
moments in Foreman’s life.
“Now f--- off,” Ferguson growled. “I’m going
back to sleep.”
ACK in February, there was one more
visit.
It was a last fling among old friends as
Long, Cloutier, Foreman, McVie, former
Habs teammate Serge Savard and friend
Michael Murphy descended on Windsor.
They went to the race track with Ferguson.
They drank too much over good meals. They
shared stories that long ago were etched in their
hearts. They laughed and laughed.
And in the end, they said their goodbyes and
left. But as they walked to the parking lot, Ferguson came running out and hugged them all.
Bittersweet, you’d think. But not for McVie.
“It wasn’t tough at all,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve been 51 years in pro hockey and I’ll
remember those four or five days more than anything; winning the Avco Cup that last year, being
in Winnipeg with all those great fans. But going
back to see Fergie with my friends? That’s the
thing I’ll remember most in my whole life in
hockey.
“It was beautiful.”
That’s why McVie won’t be shedding many
tears this weekend when they reunite back in
Windsor.
“What I want to do is celebrate Fergie’s life,”
McVie said. “Because he was a great man. A
great human being.”
And if McVie had a chance to share one more
glass of wine with his dearest friend, what would
he tell him?
“I love you,” McVie said, almost in a whisper.
And then, silence.

B

➲ randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

TIM FRASER / CANWEST NEWS SERVICE ARCHIVES


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