Category Archives: John Ferguson .

Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

More Lovely Habs Wives

Photos from my old scrapbook, which I still open from time time.

Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion with his wife Marlene and kids. That little gaffer is Danny, who went on to play for the Habs in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Marlene is the daughter of Howie Morenz, so she’s a hockey gal through and through. She looks beautiful, especially in that white blouse.

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Big Jean Beliveau doing the dishes with wife Elise. Elise said she had to do most of the driving when they were dating because Jean was a lousy driver.

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Jacques Plante, with wife Jacqueline and boys Michel and Richard, singing and forgetting about flying pucks that hurt when they hit the face. Plante also liked to knit, and made his own socks and toques.

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Dickie Moore and his lovely wife playing with their little baby. Such a fine looking couple. One of Moore’s daughters, and it could be the one in this photo, eventually dated one of Doug Harvey’s son. (I never heard how that worked out).

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Bert Olmstead showing his beautiful family his scrapbook. Scrapbooks were all the rage back then, and probably very cool when the scrapbook was about yourself. Years ago I looked up Olmstead in the Calgary phone book, phoned him and asked him if he’d mind talking about the old days with the Habs. He hung up on me.

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This is Maurice Richard, of course, just sitting around with his wife Lucille and the family. The kids are Maurice Jr., Hugette, Normand, Andre, and Suzanne. In the top photo, the Rocket shows his Rocket scrapbook to Normand and Andre. Most kids don’t have dads with a personal scrapbook. However, my dad was probably a much better sign painter than the Rocket.

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Henri Richard and his lovely wife Lise, being happy and healthy at home in Montreal. We would see Lise often over the years in camera shots at games with the Pocket, and she always looked great, that’s for sure.

Henri was just a little kid when his older brother was becoming a star with the Canadiens.

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One of the most important players on the Habs in the early 1960s, and a third and fourth line grinder at that – Dave Balon and his beautiful wife of whose name I don’t know. I wish I did.

Sadly, Balon passed away in 2007 from MS, and of course it was way too early because he was only 68.

Balon was one of those guys who was never a star, but was a hard worker, a checker, and he shone in playoff situations, scoring key goals, and was put out often in key situations against the other teams’ stars. For every Jean Beliveau, a team needs a Dave Balon. He wore number 20, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s never gotten enough credit for what he did for the Montreal Canadiens.

Look how happy they look, especially his wife.

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Ralph Backstrom and his wife Frances and kids.

After Backstrom’s playing days were over, he ended up coaching the University of Denver team, founded a roller hockey league in the late ’90s, and in 2003, the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League.

Backstrom was always one of my favourite players. I even got a brush cut like his once. The guy personified the Montreal Canadien teams he played on – speedy, classy, and a beautiful skater. Like me except for most of that.

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Canadiens goaltender Charlie Hodge and lovely wife Sheila. Charlie had the unfortunate luck of being on the same team as Jacques Plante, so he was often a backup goalie with the Habs early on. But he would win the Vezina outright in 1963-64 and shared the Vezina with Gump Worsley in ’65-66. He eventually went to Oakland when expansion came into being in 1967, as each team had to surrender a goalie for the new upstarts (the original six teams were allowed to protect only 11 skaters and one goalie).

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John Ferguson with wife Jean and daughter in this really nice family photo. As much as Fergie was a bruiser on the ice, he was known as a gentle pushover at home.

Fergie and family would go back to Nanaimo BC in the off-season where he played professional lacrosse, and he also had a long-time love affair with harness racing.

 

Fan Favourite Fergie

John Ferguson was a lot of things.

He was one of the most popular players to ever wear the Montreal sweater, according to one who would know, Dick Irvin Jr. He was a serious lacrosse player, mostly in Nanaimo, BC. He was assistant coach on Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series. He was deeply involved in horse racing. He was coach and GM of the New York Rangers, and GM of the Winnipeg Jets.

But most of all, he was a great fighter for the Habs in the 1960s, who could also score goals. Twelve seconds into his very first NHL game with the Habs, Fergie got into a fight with Boston tough guy Ted Green and won. He was a coach’s dream.

Fergie was one those guys who would cross the street if members of the opposing team were walking his way. He avoided playing in golf tournaments if players from other teams were participating.  And he would only be involved in hockey schools if all the other instructors were Montreal players.

“We played for the sweater,” John Ferguson once said, and because he said that, he’s one of my all-time favourite Montreal Canadiens. I even saw him and Eddie Shack go at it once when I was at a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, and it brought down the house. It was one of those great, delicious bench-clearing brawls, and Shack and Fergie were the headliners, two rival gladiators with a glorious dislike for each other. They went punch for punch, Leaf fans screamed for his blood, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, right up there with Brigitte Bardot standing by the fence in  And God Created Women.

John Ferguson was one of the best. He died on July 14, 2007, at only 68.

Sabres Stab Habs

It’s three losses in the Canadiens’ last four games after falling 3-2 in overtime to the visiting Buffalo Sabres.  Or four losses in six if you’re interested.

Yep, the boys are far from smokin’.

They held on to a thin 2-1 lead going into the third period, they were playing well and were on their way to two big points, but they couldn’t nail down the all-important insurance marker.

They couldn’t muster any killer instinct, Buffalo would tie it at 8:07 of the third, and then the Canadiens simply decided to give about 50% instead of the required 110%. It makes my blood boil, considering I always gave at least 160% wherever I worked.

Sometimes 170%. But I digress.

Well, I’m kinda mad. But not at Carey Price, who was terrific throughout and came up with two astonishing saves in the last 20 seconds of the third period to get the boys into overtime and of course that important single point.

Price got them the point, not the guys in front of him. The Sabres were allowed to fire clear shots and move in close far too many times. It’s soft hockey. Doug Harvey would be rolling in his grave. And if Larry Robinson was dead, he would be too.

Sprague Cleghorn would’ve punched Lehner, a ref, Brian Gionta, and most of his own teammates for losing a game they should’ve won, against a much-inferior squad. Toe Blake would’ve torn a strip off them and taken away the beer on the next train trip. John Ferguson would’ve punched a hole in a cement block. But that was a different time of course.

Today’s players check their investments, go to dinner with friends from the other teams, and say “obviously” a lot when interviewed.

Full marks to Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who absolutely robbed Alex Galchenyuk in overtime with a glove save on a hard shot while being screened. It’s marked for the highlight reels. His save, and Price’s glove on Rasmus Ristalainen, are two for the ages.

But alas, after Lehner’s big stop, Zach Bogosian would light the lamp and win the game and not that I’m the pessimistic type, but I’d say the Canadiens are in a bit of a mid-winter funk right now.

I’ll also say it again, it’s the wives fault and they should be rounded up and sent to Powell River until the season and playoffs come to a close. I’ll find something for them to do.

Random Notes:

Artturi Lehkonen and Philip Danault scored for Montreal, with both goals coming the middle frame.

Next up – Tuesday, when the Calgary Flames come a callin’.

 

 

Game 6 – They Needed To Win

Part 10

And win they did, 3-2, with absolutely no help from German officials Franz Baader and Josef Kompalla , who seemed to love the idea of sending a parade of Canadians to the sin bin and were living proof that when it came to refereeing hockey games, Germany made great cars.

No matter. Team Canada allowed a Soviet goal, then scored three in a minute and a half to take control in all aspects. Even Ken Dryden played well and finally beat his nemesis Soviets for the first time since facing them years before as an amateur.

This game had finally given us a glimmer of hope. The team played with poise and passion, they came together and played like they knew they could, and Paul Henderson, in the series of his life, scored the winner on a long slap shot that surprised everyone from Vladivostok to Victoria.

One particular incident on this night must be mentioned. It was time to stop Valeri Kharlamov, and John Ferguson provided an ugly-yet-brutally effective solution. “I think he needs a tap on the ankle,” Fergy told Bobby Clarke, and Clarke proceeded to chop and crack the Soviet star’s ankle, rendering the Soviet star useless and out of the series until game eight, where he looked absolutely non-Kharlamovian. Not one of Team Canada’s finest moments, but at this point, it was win-at-all-costs, which I understand. Although this tactic underlined what many at home and abroad had screamed loud and hard about – that the Canadians were thugs and weren’t playing the game the way it should be played.

Of course, no one mentioned the Swedes’ stick work and diving in Stockholm, or the Soviets’ exaggerated theatrics and their own particular brand of whining. And critics made no heed of the off-ice nonsense regarding Canada’s steaks and cokes going missing, and phone calls in the middle of the night to their hotel rooms with no one on the other end. Frank Mahovlich became so unnerved by the fact that his room might be bugged that he checked under the carpet and discovered what he thought was a KGB bug. The Big M then unscrewed it and promptly heard a loud crash as he realized he’d unscrewed a ceiling light from the room below.

The series had transformed into a bizarre, stressful, and unreal game of cat and mouse, but most importantly for Team Canada and the nation behind them, the Soviets were beginning to show some important cracks. Team Canada felt this thing was far from over, and Phil Esposito, as focused now as any man could be, was leading the charge like no other could. Years later, Espo would even say that he wasn’t a violent man but he would have killed to win if it had come down to that.

Below, Bobby Clarke, Bill White, and Tony Esposito see the sights of Moscow with their wives, while John Ferguson inspects some Red Army soldiers.

Beatles, Habs, And Leafs

stub

On August 17th, 1966, the Beatles played two shows at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.

I was at the afternoon concert, and I’m pretty darn proud of it.

In the summer of ’66 I was 15 and had a summer job as a highway construction slave labourer, but the boss let me go early and I went down to Toronto from Orillia with a disc jockey my sister worked with at the local radio station. She had got word to me just that morning that the DJ was going and asked if I would like to go with him.

I didn’t have a ticket, but believe it or not, they were still available when I showed up at the Gardens, and I got a $5.50 ticket in the very last row on the floor.

It was madness, of course. There were about six bands in the lineup, including the Ronettes, the Cyrkle and Bobby Hebb, and the Beatles played for about 40 minutes with girls screaming and fainting and carrying on.

That fall, hockey season began, and the next spring, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Habs in six games to win their last Stanley Cup.

The Leafs were an old team with guys like Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, and Allan Stanley, but Montreal wasn’t that young either. Henri Richard was 30, John Ferguson 27, Claude Provost was 32, Dick Duff 30, Ted Harris 30, Jean-Guy Talbot was 34, Jean Beliveau was 35, and the goalies, Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge, were 37 and 33 respectively.

Of course, Montreal also had kiddies. Yvan Cournoyer was all of 22. Claude Larose was 23, Jacques Laperriere 24, and Serge Savard and Carol Vadnais were just 20.

John and Ringo were 26, Paul 24, and George 23.

The Habs and Beatles remain in the hearts of millions.

The Leafs continue to suck.

Game Night Eyelids

This

Habs in Edmonton, the coffee’s brewed, the puck is about to be dropped, and already it’s my bedtime. That’s why the coffee’s brewed.

How long can I go?  And to make matters worse, it’ll be the same on Tuesday night when the boys are in Calgary. Time zones should be the same across the continent, with all games starting at 6:30.

Period One:

Dustin Tokarski is between the pipes for the Canadiens, and on the home front, the big pot of coffee won’t stop bubbling. I knew I shouldn’t have poured Lucy’s homemade sugar whiskey-based arthritis cure into it.

A Max goal called back, confusion at the blueline, the loathsome Benoit Pouliot scores with 19 seconds left, and it’s 1-0 Oilers.

That, combined with too many Habs penalties (4), and I’ve decided to make a double Harvey Wallbanger.

Period Two:

I just looked in the mirror and I look like shit. Maybe I’ll dig out the bennies and peyote buttons. It’s only period two, there’s lots of hockey left, and peyote makes me look better.

Unchecked and wide open, Yakupov makes it 2-0. So depressing, and the coffee and sugar whiskey aren’t working out. I keep missing my mouth.

Galchenyuk and Yakupov had dinner today at Yak’s house? John Ferguson would hate that. I’d better eat some buttons and drink some toasts to Fergie.

Period Three:

Just heard a noise. After asking the cat, it turns out it was my nostrils. Shut the %$&# up, nostrils.

Even though the walls are slanted and the floor feels foamy, the pills and peyote aren’t working.

The game’s not gone well. Lousy power play.  And there seems to be too many players on the ice. About 37 on each side. And one of the linesmen has snakes wiggling out from the holes in his helmets.

Oilers’ empty-netter. 3-0. I stayed up and partied for this?

I’ve got the munchies, and if you want my advice, don’t snort Friskies. It doesn’t inhale well and it’s not fair to the cat.

Shut out by the shitty Oilers and their insane coach Dallas Eakins. Good night.

 

Training Camp For Them And Us

So far it’s been two days at rookie camp and three at the big one with more to come. And then there were those several days last year doing the same after just moving here.

If you’re a Habs fan and a Montrealer, you may have been to many of these things over the years. I’m sure you still appreciate it greatly. You’re not a jaded bastard, are you?

It’s the kind of thing I’d never done before but had always wanted too. Now here I am checking it out on most days and getting emotional just talking about it.

Plenty of Habs fans elsewhere would also like to be in Brossard right now. I can say that with complete confidence. And those who live in the Montreal area can do it every year if they’re able to call in sick on work and school days, or aren’t forced to go to Walmart on Saturday or Sunday morning.

Is there a better way to spend a morning and early afternoon?  Drills, intrasquad games. Watching the way they fly full-tilt around the ice, reminding me that it is indeed the world’s fastest game. Sixty-four guys all wearing the CH, with the number slowly getting whittled down.

For the players it’s all business, that’s for sure. And for those who don’t ever make the big club, who end up riding buses in the minors or junior and never get to hear the roar of the crowd or be threatened by Milan Lucic, it must be an unforgettable experience anyway.

Something to be proud of and talk about forever. That time they took part in a Montreal Canadiens training camp.

Yes, I remember it well.

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Signing Bonus

What a nice group of important signatures on this sheet that I managed to get my grubby hands on recently, had them authenticated, and now are mine.

A page consisting of:

Danny

The one and only Danny Gallivan. (Until now I’d never seen a Danny Gallivan autograph although there must be some floating around considering he did a lot of banquets and charity events, especially in the Maritimes.

Balon
Dave Balon, who passed away in 2007 after a 30-year battle with MS.

Bentley
Max Bentley, The “Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle”, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966.

GordieVic Howe
Gordie Howe and his brother Vic. Vic played 33 games with the New York Rangers in the early-1950s.

Fergie
John Ferguson, who needs no introduction.

Campbell
Clarence Campbell, former league prez, inducted into the HOF in 1966.

Hicke
Bill Hicke, former Hab who died of cancer in 2005.

Garry Peters
Garry Peters, a Canadien for 17 games in the mid-1960s.

Plus these cool dudes –

John Bucyk – inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981
Pierre Pilote – inducted 1975
Johnny Bower – inducted 1976
Alex Delvecchio – inducted 1977

And two great defencemen-
Jim Neilson
Doug Barkley

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