Archive for July, 2007

Great new album

July 25, 2007

Another off-topic post, but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I like!

I downloaded a few tracks off the new album The Else by They Might Be Giants yesterday. Hardly shocking, but I am very impressed again by their creativity and musical ability.

I was first turned on to them back at McGill, by a friend, the ever-hip all-round goddess, Becky Scott. The album was Flood and I was immediately taken by the witty, often hilarious lyrics and well crafted songs, great harmonies, etc. My St. Petersburg girlfriend was absolutely besotted with their cover of the old standard “Istanbul (Not Constantinople.)”

Now, the new album sounds very promising! I started out yesterday with the track “The Mesopotamians,” which sounds to me like an homage to the Monkees’ “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” – only considerably more literate. How often do you hear a pop song referring not only to Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal and Gilgamesh, but also to the Mohenjo-Daro civilisation of the Indus Valley? Not very often, dammit! Lest you think that this makes the song a boring reference-fest (like Billy Joel’s boring “We Didn’t Start the Fire,”) I can assure you that it does not:

This is my last stick of gum
I’m going to cut it up so everybody else gets some
Except for Ashurbanipal who says my haircut makes me look like a Mohenjo-daroan”

What’s not to love? Snappy lyrics, punchy guitars, swirling harmonies – it’s got it all.

Another outstanding track is “Shadow Government.” The same formula – and, in this case, “formula” is a winner.

TMBG remind me quite a bit of XTC, another band that showed that you can write extraordinary pop music (just think “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” or “The Mayor of Simpleton”) with lyrics to make the audience think, laugh, cry, or all of the above, marrying it with flawless pop constructions.

Go get the album!


Getting back into Balkan history

July 24, 2007

When I was doing my M.A. at Carleton, the Russian and Slavic Studies Programe offered a course on Balkan history, for which I eagerly signed up. Strangely, no one else did. I was afraid that the course would be cancelled but, mercifully, the department decided to go ahead with it.

The prof in charge was a great guy – John Fraser. Long-time civil servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, John was not only a Rhodes Scholar, but a man who could tell a story. His Oxford background and the size of the class (i.e. me) combined to turn the course into an Oxford style tutorial. I was inundated with reading and had to do a 10-page paper every week, but the intensiveness, coupled with John’s superb wit and style, made it one of the most memorable courses I have ever taken (along with Serge Hervouet-Zeiber’s fabulous Russian Comparative Grammar course at McGill.)

There’s just something about one’s teacher saying, “Well, as Tito told me…”

Among the reading that John assigned was the weighty tome by Dame Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, The Yugoslavs by Dusko Doder, Misha Glenny’s Balkans, and endless other worthy titles.

I think it fair to assume that – if the course is still being offered – Robert D. Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History would be one of the books assigned. While I’m not a fan of his politics, he does write a good book, with far fewer set assumptions that one would normally ascribe to the author of Imperial Grunts. For those who are fans of his politics, I heartily recommend the blog (named after one of Kaplan’s books) The Coming Anarchy.

Anyway, having been away from full-time study for a long time, reading more Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss than serious history, I’ve decided to get back into the real stuff, starting with a re-reading of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. What could be a scarier bedtime story for kids than the exploits of IMRO?

Any recommendations for further reading in the area would be greatly welcome.

Another post about Montreal – time to change the name of the blog? :-)

July 24, 2007

Sure, I was a Star Trek fan when I was a kid. However, I think I’ve grown to love Bill Shatner more since then. His famous “Get a life” bit on Saturday Night Live many years ago and the “I am Canadian” parody at Just for Laughs (mentioned in the article below,) point out a man more than happy to take the mickey out of himself. And that’s a trait that I find very endearing.

Added to that, of course, is the fact that he’s not only a Montreal boy, but is even from my neighbourhood. Awesome.

From the Montreal Gazette:

The man, the myth, THE SHAT


BILL BROWNSTEIN on William Shatner


In this very galaxy not that long ago, William Shatner had to spend many a day and night trying to dodge overzealous Trekkies (Trekkers, if you will) sporting Spock ears and Vulcan masks (then again, maybe they weren’t masks).

Not that N.D.G.’s gift to the worlds of acting, sci-fi and the surreal didn’t appreciate the ardour of these fans, but there is far more to the man than his Captain Kirk alter ego from the iconic Star Trek series. On the other hand, if he had a buck for every Spock-eared goof who requested that Shatner “beam me up,” he probably could have retired several light years ago.

But he didn’t. Rather, Shatner, 76, reinvented himself and as a result, goes boldly where few actors, even those half his age, still go. To work. He sings, he dances, he shills, he acts.

Some 55 years in the biz, and there’s still no stopping him. It may often be self-parody, but he is most certainly a bigger star today than he was when navigating through the stars and cruising the cosmos decades back on Star Trek. He has the silverware to prove it: two Emmy Awards, among others, for his work as the batty barrister on the hit series Boston Legal.

Plus, you know you’ve made a cratersized impact when you are the subject of the doc How William Shatner Changed the World and when you are singled out for a little love and a lot of basting in The Uncensored Roast of William Shatner

“Honestly, I attribute all my longevity and success to Canadian meat and vegetables – organic vegetables, that is. Oh, and can’t forget those fabulous Canadian blueberries, so rich in anti-oxidants, from Ste. Agathe,” says Shatner, perhaps tongue-quite-a-bit-in-cheek, in a phone interview. He’s in his trailer, waiting to return to the Boston Legal set in Hollywood, and he’s in a particularly buoyant frame.

Shatner returns to his hometown Saturday to host two Just for Laughs galas at Theatre St. Denis. Seven years ago, the first and last time he served as master of ceremonies for a gala, Shatner cracked up the house with his “I am Canadian” routine – a wacky take on the Molson Canadian beer ad of yore. “I can’t take all the credit. They wrote some kind of inspired material for me,” he says. “It’s all about the material and I’m hoping for more of same this time.”

Some of the material written for the 2000 gala referred to the then-renaming of McGill’s Student Union as the William Shatner Building. “I just hope the building is earthquake-proof and has sprinkler heads,” he cracks. “I spent four great years at McGill, diligently trying to play football and act at the same time while pursuing women and studies – about in that order, too.”

But the Festival City that is Montreal today is not the one that Shatner recalls from his formative years. “Not at all. The city I remember was for me mostly in the west end. The city today seems like such a welcome place.”

“It’s not just the quality of the music and comedy at the festivals, but it’s the way the city has laid itself out as such an endearing spot to spend time.”
Despite the fact Late Late Show host and Just for Laughs alumnus Craig Ferguson selected him as his favourite Canadian humorist, Shatner doesn’t think of himself as a comedian per se. But he does have interesting views on Canadian comedy. “What’s funny is that Canadians aren’t perceived as being funny, yet many of the best comics in America are Canadians. It’s a bit of a dichotomy. It’s interesting that many think that Canada is so dour, but it’s Canadians like Mike Myers, David Steinberg and Jim Carrey who’ve helped foster comedy everywhere.”

Perhaps Ferguson picked Shatner as his fave Canadian comic based on his Boston Legal work. “There’s no question that what we do on Boston Legal is really amusing, but it’s also quite meaningful, too,” Shatner says. “James Spader (the show’s costar) and I looked at each other at the end of a scene the other day and he made the remark that, what other TV show writes scenes like this? We couldn’t come up with another name.”

Shatner is hoping to catch a break from his Boston Legal shooting schedule in order to stay in Montreal for more than a weekend. “Except for two sisters and a few relatives, I really don’t know too many people in the city,” he notes. “But the garlic spare-ribs are calling out for me and I have to heed the call.”

As seasoned Montrealers are likely aware, he is referring to the garlic spare-ribs of the longdefunct Ruby Foo’s which have been nearly replicated at Le Chrysantheme downtown. “They must have the Ruby Foo’s spare-ribs under spectrum analysis to determine just how much garlic goes into them.”

Also calling out to Shatner are, natch, Montreal bagels, barbecued chicken and smoked meat. “I’ll tell you just how good the smoked meat is. Over the last few years, I have sent out for loads of smoked meat, and of all the things I have done in four years on Boston Legal, the biggest contribution I have made to the show – more than my dialogue or comedy scenes or meaningful moments – is the smoked meat. All the other stuff pales before that pink mass of Schwartz’s smoked meat.

“Of course, I might need a whole load of bran after eating all that smoked meat in town.”

Fortunately, Shatner knows where to find it. He just happens to be the pitch-man for Kellogg’s Bran Flakes. Ah, when it rains, it pours for the man.

John Ferguson Laid to Rest

July 23, 2007

From the TSN website:

John Ferguson Sr.
Canadian Press
7/21/2007 1:50:24 PM
WINDSOR, Ont. (CP) – Hit first and keep swinging.

That was one of the credos by which former Montreal Canadians enforcer John Ferguson Sr. led his life – on and off the ice.

But while Ferguson made his name as a tough guy in the mid 1960s to early 1970s, the hundreds of mourners who packed the All Saints Anglican Church here Saturday morning remembered a devoted father and husband.

“I strive to emulate my father’s traits,” said Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr., who remembered his dad as an altruistic, caring and compassionate man.

Ferguson, who rarely lost a fight on the ice during his career, succumbed to cancer last Saturday at the age of 68.

“He lived by standards that may seem incongruous to those who don’t know him,” the younger Ferguson said.

The service began with a family procession punctuated by the sombre sound of bagpipes. And during an emotional eulogy, the younger Ferguson shared some of his favourite memories.

Once, when his father came home with a cast on his fist after an on-ice incident with Eddie Westfall, the younger Ferguson, who was five when his father retired, asked his dad if he’d ever lost a fight on the ice.

“Only to your mom, son,” the enforcer replied.

Ferguson Jr. also told the crowded church how his parents met 56 years ago in Vancouver, and how their love and dedication to one another was an inspiration and an example.

“I now know that no boy or family could ever have a better father,” he said.
Ted Foreman, a close friend who worked with the elder Ferguson during his tenure as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, said his friend was like a “good dinner roll – crusty on the outside but soft on the inside.”

Ferguson Sr. was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2005, and Ferguson’s daughter, Joanne, recalled how her father’s courage and determination never swayed.

“Cancer is so limited, it cannot cripple love or shatter hope,” she said.
Ferguson Sr. was an integral part of a Montreal Canadians squad which won the Stanley Cup five times during his career from 1964 to 1971.

In 500 regular-season games, he accumulated 303 points (145 goals, 158 assists).
His rugged playing style also earned him 1,214 penalty minutes.

Joining the senior Ferguson’s four children, 10 grandchildren and hundreds of friends were many familiar faces from the hockey world such as Montreal Canadians legend Serge Savard.

“People have to remember that when John Ferguson played in the American League he was an all-star who scored 40 goals,” said Savard, who added Ferguson scored 29 goals one season and shared the ice with the likes of Jean Beliveau.

“Sure, he was a tough player, but he was also a very good player.”

Savard was joined by fellow Habs legend Guy Lapointe and NHL dignitaries like Scotty Bowman, Glen Sather, Doug Wilson, Leafs coach Paul Maurice and Phoenix Coyotes centre Mike Ricci.

After retiring as a player, Ferguson Sr. managed and coached the New York Rangers before becoming the Jets general manager – a position he held from 1979 to 1988.
Ferguson, who loved horses from childhood, also managed Windsor Raceway and worked as director of player personnel for the Ottawa Senators.

Up until his death, he worked as a senior scout for the San Jose Sharks.


July 19, 2007

I had really hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, but the Russian Foreign Ministry informed the British Ambassador today that 4 British diplomats would be expelled.


While I realise that reciprocity is nearly always the principle at work in affairs such as these, I still regret that the Russians took this step.

Berezovsky escapes assassination attempt?

July 18, 2007

As much as I dislike Boris Berezovsky, I have no desire to see him bumped off by assassins, especially if the latter are Russians.

The Sun, Daily Telegraph and Times are all reporting today that Berezovsky – acting on a tip from Scotland Yard (or MI5) – fled Britain 3 weeks ago, believing that his life was in imminent danger.

The one thing I find very weird about this is that Scotland Yard would advise a potential target of an assassination attempt to leave Britain – why on earth would they do that? Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep him there, under 24-hour watch by MI5, Special Branch and his own security detail?

A bit fishy, no?

Berezovsky’s certainly playing a starring role in the British press these days, however. Whether it’s the man himself, or his friends and colleagues (Litvinenko, Goldfarb, Gordievsky,) it’s the all-BAB show!

Super Op-Ed from the New York Times on Conrad Black

July 18, 2007

Will Ferguson (another Canadian Ferguson on this page?) is a very funny man, who’s written some very funny books, among them Why I Hate Canadians, How to Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One) and Bastards & Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present. Good stuff, especially for my fellow Canadians out there.

Here, to takes on Conrad Black, after the latter’s recent conviction for fraud and embezzlement. Ferguson nails it when he states that Canadians are damned pleased about the verdict due to Black’s public renunciation of his Canadian citizenship. That’s right on the money. Of course, Black’s insults to Canada didn’t help matters either.

I was I was still in Ottawa, reading Frank, a hilarious publication that was always savage towards “Tubby.”

Anyway, here’s the piece. I thought it was superb.

July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
Canada’s Black Heart
Calgary, Alberta
FORGET the cowboy. The true all-American hero is the confidence man: breezy, self-invented, ambitious, protean. So too with Canada. Ignore the scarlet-jacketed Mountie who is strong of jaw and pure of heart. Up here, the voyageur — a jaunty, indomitable, unpretentious, rough-hewn New World figure — is closer to the mythical Canadian heart.

But just as the Puritan stands in thin-lipped contrast to the American confidence man, so does the Upper Canadian Anglophile oppose the woodsman. (Never mind that the back-breaking reality for the French-Canadian fur trappers was far removed from this romanticized image. We are dealing with iconography here.)

Which brings us to Conrad Black, Canada’s fallen press baron. Although from Quebec, and therefore technically a Lower Canadian, Mr. Black has a character that is Anglo and Upper all the way through. Though newly convicted on three counts of fraud and one of obstruction, Mr. Black could just as easily be considered as guilty of one crime: hubris. He thought he could bully American prosecutors in the same way he bullied his shareholders.

Standing up to Americans is normally the sort of thing that would endear a Canadian to his countrymen. But not in this case. Instead, there is a quiet feeling of glee among Canadians over Mr. Black’s comeuppance. Not because Mr. Black is rich and powerful or in need of ego deflation. And not because he was revealed to be a swindler on a grand scale. The schadenfreude up here is because Conrad Black — for reasons that were purely Upper Anglo — publicly renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Was Mr. Black’s repudiation of Canada an act of protest against government policies abroad or at home? The seal hunt, say, or the export of cold fronts, prescription medicines and Celine Dion? No, Conrad Black renounced his citizenship in 2001 so that he could dress up as a British lord and play out the ultimate Upper Canadian dream.

Mr. Black was forced to choose between his Canadian-ness and his love for the aristocracy because his entry into the British House of Lords was blocked, you see. Blocked by a French-Canadian voyageur, as it were.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a tough little scrapper from the boonies, refused to allow Mr. Black’s ascent into the higher echelons of snootiness. Canadian citizens, Mr. Chrétien said pointedly, do not accept foreign titles.

Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Black are opposites in any category you care to mention: class, language, culture, diction. Conrad Black is from a wealthy Anglo Montreal family. Mr. Chrétien is from blue-collar Quebec. And their feud played out along Canada’s classic fault line, a conflict between Upper Canadian pretensions and French-Canadian disdain for those very same pretensions.
It ended with Mr. Black stomping off in a huff, rejecting his Canadian citizenship to don the musty robes and puffed up title of Lord Such-and-Such.

Lord Black wasn’t burned in effigy for his apostasy, but he did greatly irk a lot of his former fellow citizens. And there is nothing so frighteningly passive-aggressive as a well-irked Canadian.

More than merely irksome, on a deeper level Conrad Black represents that most Anglo-Canadian of conceits: the blustering royalist, the imperially infatuated capitalist.
Remember the Tories that you Americans hounded out of your country after the War of Independence? In Canada they are known as “Loyalists.” They are considered heroes, men of principle who sacrificed everything except their honor in the face of American mob rule.
The Tories who came north to Canada paid a heavy — and, yes, a heroic — price for their loyalties. They also established a precedent, one that lingers even now. In Lord Black, we see the self-inflicted colonialism, the infatuation with all things British, that has both marked and marred the Canadian character over the years.

From British lord to convicted felon, Mr. Black’s swan dive has been breathtaking. Almost heroic. Even better, he is now asking for his citizenship back, so he can serve his sentence in a Canadian jail. Good luck with that.

In Canada, any disagreement with the United States is typically cast in David and Goliath terms, with the Canadians as beleaguered underdogs and the Americans as rapacious swindlers (see: soft wood lumber, treaties regarding). Remember Ben Johnson, the 1988 Olympics sprinter pumped up on steroids? In Canada, he was the underdog. At least, until he got caught. And Carl Lewis was, well, the American, which by definition made him the villain of the piece.

The War of 1812? Same thing. We were the underdogs. You were the marauders. (I’m told that in American history books you won the War of 1812. Bizarre.)

This whole “Canada as plucky underdog” narrative hasn’t been applied in the case of Lord Black versus the United States, though. Instead, The Beaver, Canada’s gloriously named history magazine, is running a contest to name “the worst Canadian ever,” and sure enough, Mr. Black, having forsaken his own country and been convicted of swindling his shareholders, is one of the top nominees.

Lord Black may find himself bequeathed a new title when the results are announced at the end of July, if only because he reflects so sharply a side of ourselves we so often try to deny: the Anglophilia, the once-defiant but now dated Loyalist mind-set, the yearning for an Old Country that exists only in the imagination.

On the day the verdict was announced an American journalist called me, asking if Conrad Black — aggressive, unapologetic, imperially ambitious — was Canada’s future.

I thought about the ermine robes, the bluster, the House of Lords pretensions. “No,” I said. “Not the future. The past.”

Litvinenko, Russia, the Press and British-Russian Ructions

July 17, 2007
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on – Winston Churchill

I have avoided writing about the entire Litvinenko affair and its fallout, if you’ll excuse the last word. I find it all so depressing.

It’s depressing due to the possibilities contained therein. If the Russian state, or even just a rogue arm of it, if responsible for the murder, we’ve entered a frightening new (or old) phase of state development, in which critics can be murdered abroad. It matters little that I think that Litvinenko was patently loony (sorry, but “Putin responsible for 9/11” or, “Putin expelled from KGB for paedophilia?”) – murdering citizens of other countries (of which I am a citizen, particularly) is still not something I want the Russian Government to be getting up to, to say the least.

Is it possible that the government is behind the murder? Yes. Does that mean that they definitely did it? No.

Nearly as depressing for me is the possibility that the Russian government had nothing to do with it, meaning that the …ahem…forceful editorials produced by Edward Lucas and, today, Sir Oleg Gordievsky, are symptomatic of something rather worrying in the press, and not just that of Britain. Although I’m certainly not of one mind with Tony Blair, I have to wonder, “Is there, indeed, a pack mentality?” And, if so, does it mean that a mistaken meme will be played out endlessly, doing damage even after it is refuted?

In the last case, I refer to a particular annoyance of mine that took place during the Orange Revolution: the idea that Russian spetsnaz troops – wearing Ukrainian uniforms – had landed in Kyiv, ostensibly to either shoot protestors, or to simply evacuate Kuchma and his circle to Russia. I was instantly skeptical, mostly due to the inanity of the allegations, especially that 1000 fully armed troops had been flown in on two planes. Clearly, that was impossible. But that didn’t kill the story – far from it. Yulia Tymoshenko published an editorial (available here) baldly stating that the troops were here. Mykola Ryabchuk and Boris Tarasyuk went charging out to confront the nefarious Russians, having been tipped off where they were…only to go strangely quiet afterwards. A former U.S. Congressman from Colorado and Jane’s Intelligence Digest also chimed in.

But they all got it wrong: Oleksandr Turchinov, installed after the OR as head of the SBU, scotched the story, as did Tymoshenko (sottissimo voce) Taras Kuzio, here.

Or did they get it wrong? One as to ask oneself, “Did they believe the story they were telling?” If they did, then it was a simple, though large, mistake and an apology would have been all that one could reasonably expect. If, however, the rumour was floated, bellowed and kept alive in order to score purely political points, only to be quietly abandoned when the purpose was served, then we have a different kettle of fish, don’t you think?

Anyway, the Ukrainian “party” Братство liked the technique so much that they decided to use it, too!

Essentially, Russia was being accused of committing an act of war.

This is similar to the Litvinenko case. Whether a state-backed murder of a British citizen would be considered a criminal act or an act of war is one for the international lawyers. However, Georgia and Estonia have also accused Russia of acts of war, albeit limited or even cyber types of war.

Is it possible that Russia is waging a multi-front “war” against the states it sees as enemies. Alas, yes. Does this mean that it’s definitely doing this? No.

Is it possible that there is a group of people who will take action to blacken Russia’s image in the West? Yes. Does it mean that it’s happening? No.

How are we, the hoi polloi, to know where the truth lies? And, is it akin to Lenin’s idea of truth, i.e. that there’s a politically useful “truth” – the truth as the Party, or whoever, needs it – quite different from real truth? Is it a case of правда versus истина?

I’m afraid that we can’t know.

And then there’s the issue of bias. I’ll admit upfront that I am not convinced of Russia’s guilt in any of the aforementioned cases. To say that I’m not convinced does not mean that I cannot be convinced. However, after the Kyiv spetsnaz debacle, I began to look at sensational articles and editorials in the Press – Ukrainian and elsewhere – with a rather more jaundiced eye.

For example…

Gordievsky’s piece:

Well, Sir Oleg will not be accused of mincing words! He states unequivocally that the Russian state and Putin himself were behind the murder. A strong statement and, for all I know, a true statement. But I demand more than his editorial to convince me, sorry. Apart from what seems to be a mix-up of actual executors in the 1978 Markov assassination (surely it was the Bulgarian state security service that did the job, assisted by Soviet KGB labs,) he leaves me a bit cold with his assertion that his “friend” Litvinenko’s often wacky “criticism” of the Kremlin and Putin was read by “too many.” How many would that be, considering how few had ever heard of him, until he died?

Daniel Finkelstein, from The Times:

He sees the murder as “a brazen attempt to silence a Kremlin critic.” Again, I’m not convinced that Litvinenko was silenced because he reamed Putin. A phrase that really jumps out if his criticism of Russia “parading of a constitutional ban on the extradition of Russian citizens.” Why use that word, parading? The intent looks to be to make it all seem rather cheap and tawdry of the Russians to remember that there is such a clause in the constitution.

That said, I’ll go on record to say that I would like Lugovoi extradited to stand trial in a British court. The outcome of that trial would sertainly go a long way towards convincing me of Russia’s guilt or innocence in the Litvinenko case. Why? Mostly due to the fact that I do believe in the British courts. Unfortunately, extradition seems now less likely than ever.

(note to self: less rambling, please)

Leonard Cohen Interview

July 17, 2007

Although I realise that I’m supposed to be writing about Eastern Europe, I feel obliged to share good things when I come across them

As a bit of a podcast junkie, especially regarding BBC podcasts, I would like to recommend Front Row Interview (among others.) It’s normally 2-3 rather in-depth and always interesting interviews with political or cultural figures from around the world.

It just so happens that the latest issue kicks off with an exceptional interview of another of my heroes, fellow Montreal boy and fellow McGill alumnus Leonard Cohen. What an utterly fascinating man.

I like to think of him as a classmate: on the same day that I received my McGill B.A. in a sweltering Place Des Arts, Leonard was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters. I spoke to him once in a lovely bar on St-Laurent called La Cabane.

Anyway, in this interview, he tells with great warmth and wit about his creative process, his time spent in a Buddhist monastery, his troubles with money (after having been ripped off by his manager) and many other things.

Do yourself a favour and download it at:

A little more on John Ferguson, 1938-2007

July 17, 2007

Ferguson was a force on and off the ice

TOOK ON ANYONE He also proved to be a great hockey mind


OTTAWA – Bobby Hull knew the fury of those fists. Hull, the great left winger of the Chicago Blackhawks of the 1960s and ’70s, had more than one bloody encounter with John Ferguson of the Canadiens.

At news that one of his fiercest adversaries had succumbed to cancer during the weekend, Hull was struck, above all, by a renewed sense of his mortality. Ferguson was 68. “It’s a shame when a guy has to suffer as long as he did,” Hull said yesterday from his home near Kingston, Ont. “I feel for his family and close friends.

“Every time another soldier falls, it brings us closer to the wall,” Hull said. “I’m going to be 69 in January. Where has the time gone?”

Hull respected Ferguson for his work as an NHL enforcer, although it might have cost Hull’s Blackhawks a Stanley Cup. In the 1960s and ’70s, the Canadiens and Blackhawks met three times in the final, and Montreal won all three.

The grace of Jean Béliveau, the speed of the Canadiens, the goaltending of Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge (1965), and then Ken Dryden (1971, ’73) were factors.

But in that ’65 meeting, it was a beating put on Eric Nesterenko by Ferguson that swung the series. Whether accidentally or with a purpose, Nesterenko brought his stick down on Ferguson’s head in Game 5 – and paid for it with three vicious rights to the face by Ferguson.

Bleeding profusely, Nesterenko went off for “repairs,” and did return, but sheepishly. Montreal won the game 6-0, and though the Blackhawks pushed the series to the limit, their will was gone. Chicago fell in Game 7, 4-0.

Béliveau, the Canadiens’ captain, gave credit to Ferguson’s “hammering fists” for the role they played in that championship. Not exactly the image of the “firewagon” Canadiens of that era, but an honest assessment by Le Gros Bill.

In an eight-year NHL career, Ferguson won five Stanley Cups. He left the Canadiens on poor terms in 1971, not happy with his experience under head coach Al MacNeil, despite winning the Cup that season.

Though Ferguson twice scored 20 or more goals, proving his value beyond a mere goon, there were certainly better players. Arguably, there might have been tougher ones, though not many.

Other than Rocket Richard, there might not have been a player as intense as Ferguson.

Dick Irvin tells the story of Ferguson staggering into a postgame interview like a wild animal.

This was in 1967, when Irvin was a rookie on Hockey Night In Canada.

The Canadiens had swept the New York Rangers in four games, and Ferguson scored the overtime winner in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.

Irvin waited five long minutes for the post-series handshake ritual – plenty of time for the average player to calm down. Not Ferguson. “I thought the guy was going to pass out,” Irvin said. “His eyes were rotating in his head, he couldn’t get his breath, he was hyperventilating.
“I asked him a particularly long question, to let him catch his breath, and I made sure it was a ‘yes/no’ question, so he could gather himself. But he scared me. I didn’t know if he was going to hit me – he was gasping for breath.

“It was just the moment. He was still caught up in scoring that big goal.”

Béliveau would say Ferguson was every bit as intimidating to Montreal’s players as he was to the opposition. He demanded a measure of his own intensity in his teammates.

In his off-ice roles, the fire still burned within.

It was Ferguson, as an assistant coach of Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, who encouraged Bobby Clarke to take out Valeri Kharlamov, the gifted Soviet forward.

When Ferguson was general manager of the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL, Irvin remembers being in the visitor’s radio booth when a shower of white paper flew out of the GM’s booth beside him, as a frustrated Fergie responded to a situation on the ice.

For a fighter with limited hockey gifts, Ferguson showed a remarkable versatility after retiring as a player. Equally adept at judging race horses and rising hockey talent, Ferguson coached the Rangers and then stepped in to become the face of the Jets, in the World Hockey Association and NHL, for a decade beginning in the late 1970s.

In an odd twist, Ferguson won an Avco Cup as GM of the Jets in their final WHA season, with Bobby Hull, his old nemesis, starring at left wing.