Sad time for Habs’ fans…death of one of my heroes

I read today (http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/news_story/?ID=213602&hubname=) of the death of John Ferguson, one of my childhood heroes from the Montreal Canadiens. The link gives you a brief look at his career, but I highly recommend the two video links contained therein, especially the second, which has interviews with Serge Savard and Yvan Cournoyer, giving their takes on the man’s greatness.

Of course, there are those who might see John Ferguson as a villain, not least for his role in the Bobby Clarke hacking of Valerii Kharlamov’s ankle at a pivotal moment in the 1972 Canada-USSR series. I can understand that point of view, especially as I’ve always had a very healthy respect for Soviet and Russian teams (and even adapted an old Red Wings’ home jersey to a Soviet Jersey, with Kharlamov’s name on the back,) but I have reasons other than purely sporting to be a fan of the big man.

My grandmother, an immigrant to Canada from England, lived in the Haddon Hall apartments, literally around the corner from the old (and one and only) Montreal Forum.) As I often used to go to her place after school to walk her dogs, I often used to see members of the Habs’ walking back to the Forum from lunch, or before a game. I can’t describe what an 8 year-old boy feels at moments like that: not only seeing one’s heroes (nay, GODS) in the flesh, but saying “hello” to them and having them say “Hi, kid” back. Incredible. Beliveau, Henri “the Pocket Rocket” Richard, Cournoyer, Dryden, Jacques Laperierre, etc. and all within touch.

My grandmother herself was – inexplicably for an English woman who had never seen ice hockey until she was well into her 50s – also an enormous fan of the Canadiens. On her bedside table, there were only two photos: one of her dear, departed husband, and the other of none other than Ken Dryden, duly autographed by the man himself. My father once made a near-fatal mistake, by criticizing Dryden’s play during a game. He got off lightly: my grandmother didn’t speak to him for a week, but probably contemplated more serious sanctions.

I was with my grandmother at Alexis Nihon Plaza (directly across Atwater Avenue from the Forum) in 1972, when we spied John Ferguson entering the building. She nearly shoved me forward, knowing that I would have otherwise been too shy to get his autograph. Naturally, as he must have done thousands of times in his career, he was only too happy to give me his autograph, asked me whether I played hockey and where (I did, for Terrebonne Park, and terribly) and, in general, made my week.

I’m very sorry that this man, great in my opinion, is now gone. His legend lives on, in the hearts of millions of Habs’ fans and those of the Canadiens’ opponents.

R.I.P John Ferguson.

UPDATE: Here’s another tribute to JF, from a super hockey history blog, http://hockeystoughguys.blogspot.com/2006/05/john-ferguson.html

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