Passion of John Ferguson drove Canada in Summit Series | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaPassion of John Ferguson drove Canada in Summit Series

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 | 01:39 PM

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After Paul Henderson's, left, iconic goal 40 years ago against Russia, John Ferguson Sr., right, asked each Canadian player to autograph a stick for him as memento from their special victory and their time together. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) After Paul Henderson's, left, iconic goal 40 years ago against Russia, John Ferguson Sr., right, asked each Canadian player to autograph a stick for him as memento from their special victory and their time together. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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Four decades later, my thoughts are with the late John Ferguson. He passed away too young at 68 in 2007 after a battle with cancer. There is no doubt had he still been alive, Big Fergy would have been at the centre of the Summit Series celebrations the past few weeks.

Some of us who are old enough likely took a moment on Friday to remember where we were when Paul Henderson scored his dramatic late-game winner to give Team Canada its narrow victory over the Soviet Union in the Summit Series 40 years ago.

For me, I was in Grade 2 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Waterloo, Ont. Our teacher Mrs. Douglas let us watch the first period down in the school library, but marched us back to class during the intermission and before the final-game drama began to unfold in Canada's favour that afternoon.

It was too much to take for my friend Louie Dietrich and I. So at separate times we asked to go to the washroom. Louie went first. I followed. We returned to the library and watched the rest of the game. We were lucky our school's Grade 6 teacher Mr. Dowling saw how important the game was for us. He let us stay and we were able to witness Henderson score that fortunate, but beautiful goal.

Four decades later, my thoughts are also with the late John Ferguson. He passed away too young at 68 in 2007 after a battle with cancer. There is no doubt had he still been alive, Big Fergy would have been at the centre of the Summit Series celebrations the past few weeks.

"If anything, our emotions were the deciding factor in that series," Peter Mahovlich said. "John was a fiery type guy. That's what he was all about as a player and he gave us that emotion as a coach, too. He was a very emotional person and he didn't try to hide it."

There was no better example of Ferguson's passion than when he encouraged Bobby Clarke to take out Russian Valeri Kharlamov with a wicked slash to his ankle. Like or not, Clarke's actions caused Kharlamov to miss the next game and he also was ineffective in the series finale.

Even though Ferguson had retired as a player following the 1970-71 season, he was asked to play for Team Canada in 1972. He didn't feel right about suiting up for Canada because the Montreal Canadiens were after him to rejoin them, too. So instead, he accepted an invitation from Team Canada head coach Harry Sinden to be his assistant.

"It showed what sort of respect Harry had for my dad," said John Ferguson Jr., the San Jose Sharks director of pro scouting. "Harry had been with the Bruins. I don't have to tell you what bitter rivals Boston and Montreal were back then and still are to this day. But Harry and my dad had respect for each other and they remained good friends afterwards."

Ferguson's foray behind the bench

This was Ferguson Sr.'s first foray behind the bench. His son agreed that the 1972 experience stirred Ferguson Sr. to stay in the game. He went on to manage the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, and later helped build into contenders the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks with his work in their respective scouting departments.

Ferguson's first piece of advice for Sinden was to include his former Canadiens' teammates Mahovlich and Serge Savard on the Team Canada roster. Savard wound up being one of Team Canada's most reliable defenders, while the younger Mahovlich played a key role, especially as a penalty killer.

He also played plenty of shifts alongside Canada's best player, Phil Esposito. The two combined on Esposito's goal early in the third period of the final game to ignite Canada's comeback.

"[Ferguson] later told me that he pushed for me to be on the team," Mahovlich said. "John was a tremendous teammate in Montreal. We all had a tremendous amount of respect for him and he was a tremendous asset in 1972."

Ferguson Jr. was five-years-old when "Henderson made a wild stab for it," and moments later "they score. Henderson has scored for Canada." His family still has many keepsakes from the Summit Series and Team's Canada's time in Moscow. He also remembers his father's suitcase that returned to Canada with the inside lining ripped out after being searched by the KGB.

Ferguson Jr.'s favourite story about his Dad was when Team Canada arrived home to a hero's welcome in Montreal. After Henderson deposited his series clincher, Ferguson Sr. asked each player to autograph a stick for him as memento from their special victory and their time together.

He didn't let that stick out of his sight on the plane ride home. When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau greeted Team Canada members coming off the plane, Savard stood next to Ferguson in line. He grabbed the precious stick from Ferguson's hands and handed it to Mr. Trudeau.

"This is for you," Savard told the PM.

Years later, this story was recounted in a Montreal newspaper. Mr. Trudeau saw the clip and had the stick returned to Ferguson. He, however, later donated the stick to a fundraiser for former voice of the Jets Ken Nicholson, who was undergoing some medical problems at the time.

"Whether Dad ran into Serge or Harry or Yvan [Cournoyer] or Phil, you could tell these guys remained tight after all these years," Ferguson Jr. said. "They became good friends in 1972 and remained good friends. Even when they got into their 50s and 60s, it was like they were kids again when they got together."

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