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April 15, 2006

John Ferguson

John Ferguson is known througout hockey circles as perhaps the toughest hockey player in the modern day NHL. He is often considered to be hockey's first "goon" or "designated sitter." Critics claimed he was only there to protect the smaller skilled players on the Montreal Canadiens. However the colorful and feared left winger was also a very solid hockey player.

His first game was in 1963 in the Boston Garden, and he played a huge role in the outcome of the game. He played on a line with Jean Beliveau and Boom Boom Geoffrion and his job was obvious - to thwart the Bruins bigger players from taking liberties against the Habs superstars.

The main concern from Montreal coach Toe Blake was with Boston's "Terrible" Ted Green, who played "with the heart and guts of a pitbull" and was generally considered to be hockey's toughest player. Green was well aware of the rookie known as Fergie and was willing to test him. Just 12 seconds into the game the two collided and dropped the gloves. Ferguson landed three quick blows numbing Green and instantly taking the title as hockey's unofficial heavyweight champion, a title he never relinquished until he retired.

Ferguson had more to prove that night though. He had the hands of a brawler but would ultimately show that he knew other tricks with those hands as well. He ended up with 2 goals and an assist.

Fergie wasn't the biggest player in the league. He stood at 5'11" and played at 190 lbs. He also never accumulated rediculous penalty minute totals. His highest PIM in a season was 156, which is pretty low compared to today's pugilists.

Fergie played exactly 500 games in the NHL, scoring 145 goals and 158 points for 303 points. He average 18 goals a season, and in 1968-69 reached a career high 29 goals and 52 points.

Ferguson not only wanted to have a long and successful hockey career, but he wanted to be known as hockey's toughest player. When he was hockey's unofficial heavyweight champ, he was offered a chance to fight Canadian heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo. Chuvalo was one of a very few people to last 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali. The bought never happened as the Canadiens refused to give Fergie permission to fight.

He was a key member of 5 Montreal Stanley Cup Championships. Make no doubt he made those who played with him a better player. Small and speedy guys like Geoffrion, Cournoyer, Beliveau, and Henri Richard played a lot bigger knowing Fergie was behind them.

Many were surprised Ferguson retired after just 8 NHL seasons. While Fergie diplomatically claimed he had many business opportunities awaiting him, he later revealed the real reason he retired from the National Hockey League - he was afraid he'd kill somebody.

"I was beginning to worry about doing some serious damage to someone" said Ferguson in Brian McFarlane's book "The Habs."

Hockey fans loved Fergie because he played with heart and emotion that all fans demand. Hockey today could use another John Ferguson.

7 comments:

wallybear7777 said...

Fergy was one of the best policeman ever, and he bled blue blanc et rouge. I watched him growing up and admired his style. Rest in peace fergy.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sad the hear of the passing of John Ferguson. As a Bruins fan who had to endure him playing against my beloved "B's", I, of course, hated him as an enemy, but appreciated him as a player. Ah, those were the days watching him and Ted Green square off. Oh well, my condolences to the Ferguson family and to all the fans of the Canadians. He was a great player and a great man.

Anonymous said...

Fergy was tough & could play! I grew up in Western Canada a rabid Habs fan surrounded by Leaf fans but those days sure were sweet! The Fergy/Shack battles were some of the best ever. Those glaring eyes of his still give me chills. RIP big guy, you will be missed!

Big Gates said...

Wow, was John Sr. the man or what !
The Habs were lucky to have such a character guy who stood up for all his players. Talk about a guy getting room on the ice, Fergy owned the freakin' place when he was on! No doubt, he was one scary dude- ask some of those so-called tough guys from those days. RIP # 22

Kelo said...

Just ask Le Gros if he had more ice when Fergy was on the ice. Oh ya, he couldn't skate but that's not why they brought him up out of Cleveland. Rest in Peace Fergy, You were part of the best decade in hockey.

WDaveKJr said...

RIP Ferg. I hated you as a Bruins fan in the 60's and 70's but you were a real hockey player not just an enforcer. I still remember Derek Sanderson sucker punching him in a game and big, bad John hardly flinching...I thought "Oh man...I hope Derek's life insurance is paid up...

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Cleveland, and I watched John Ferguson develop into quite a hockey player there. I had earlier seen him play in Fort Wayne, for the Komets. Tough guy, but he put up some great numbers in Cleveland -- and some nice scoring totals in Montreal, too.

I went off to College in Boston in 1964, and as a Cleveland Barons fan, I made sure I was one of the 13,909 at the Garden when Montreal came in for John's first game.

He and Ted Green went at it just a few seconds into the game. Right at the face-off circle. But I have to take exception to some of the legend that has grown around that fight. No one went down, no one had their jersey pulled over their head, and from the balcony, it sure looked like a draw.

Not bad, of course, since Green was known as the best in the league with his fists!

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