190-ferguson070714

John Ferguson Sr., right, gets a 1972 Team Canada jersey signed by Paul Henderson at the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2005. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Former NHL player and general manager John Ferguson Sr. died Saturday after a lengthy fight with prostate cancer. He was 68.

Ferguson's career in professional hockey spanned five decades — beginning as one of the toughest players in the NHL and including turns as a general manager, head coach and scout.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, with whom he lived in Windsor, Ont. Their son, John Ferguson Jr., is general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2005. He thought he had it beat at one point but a second battle with the disease took his life.

"My father battled cancer with the same spirit in which he played the game of hockey," Ferguson Jr. said in a release on Saturday. "He showed courage, strength, class and tremendous character. He had deep appreciation for the support he'd received from so many people beginning with his initial diagnosis.

"My father's spirit will continue to live on in all of us whose lives he touched."

Ferguson played his entire eight-season career with the Montreal Canadiens, from 1963 to 1971, winning five Stanley Cups during that period.

After his playing career concluded, Ferguson became general manager and head coach of the New York Rangers for two tumultuous seasons, from 1976 to 1978. He moved on to become general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, both in the World Hockey Association and eventually back in the NHL, from 1979 to 1988.

Ferguson stayed busybetween hockey jobs as the manager of the Windsor Raceway before making his return to the game as the director of player personnel for the Ottawa Senators from 1992 to 1995.

Most recently, Ferguson was a senior scout for the San Jose Sharks from 1995 until his death on Saturday.

"John Ferguson was one of the most beloved figures to ever represent the Sharks, as well as the entire National Hockey League," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said in a statement. "His sense of class, grace and love of the game of hockey is legendary among those who were fortunate enough to know and work with him."

Deft scoring touch often overlooked

Known as one of the league's all-time great heavyweight enforcers, Ferguson was never shy about dropping the gloves. He got into his first fight 12 seconds into his first NHL game.It was a sign of things to come — he amassed 1,214 penalty minutes in 500 regular-season games.

Ferguson, who was also a standout on the lacrosse field, was once dared to fight Canadian heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo.Never one to back down from a challenge, No. 22was willing to enter the ring but the Canadiens wouldn't allow it.

Beyond the brawls, the left winger displayed a deft scoring touch that was often overlooked.

Playing on a line with eventual Hart Trophy-winner Jean Beliveau, Ferguson led all NHL rookies in scoring in his first season and finished as runner-up for rookie of the year honours in 1963-64.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward also scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1969, during a season that saw him score a career-high 29 goals with a plus-30 rating.

In 85 post-season games, the two-time all-star scored 20 goals and added 18 assists.

With files from the Canadian Press