|There'll Be No Tag Days For Him|
His name is engraved on five Stanley Cups. He spearheaded a hockey dynasty in Montreal that lasted from 1963 to 1971. How did John Ferguson do it I asked?
"When you get right down to it, I made it my business to be an absolutely miserable S.O.B. on the ice all of the time."
If the Montreal Canadiens had a weakness in the early sixties it was size. Too often they were being battered against the boards and checked out of action. That problem was solved when general manager Frank Selke brought John up from the American Hockey League as a sort of enforcer, or policeman. He hadn't lost a fight in the A.H.L. and lived up to his reputation during his first game in Boston. At the opening faceoff he got into a fight with Ted Green and he won. He then proceeded to score twice in that game.
After playing 500 games, scoring 145 goals, 158 assists and spending 1,214 minutes in the penalty box, the extremely aggressive forward retired from the Canadiens in 1971 to begin a new career as a businessman. But he couldn't stay away from the game he loved. He came back as coach and general manager of the New York Rangers in 1976, then as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets and finally as general manager of Team Canada. But the biggest moment of his life was being taken on by the Canadiens.
"It was like dying and going to heaven, being called into Frank Selke's office. I had come up from the American league leading in goal scoring and selected for the All-star team and Mr. Selke told me: 'Son, I am going to pay you $125 a game whether you are with the American league or with the big team, and I hope it's with the big team.' I said: 'Fine, Mr. Selke. Just give me the pen and I'll sign the contract.'
"That worked out to $8,500 per season. Pretty small peanuts compared with player's salaries now. But we didn't have any agents then and I wasn't about to negotiate with the Canadiens. I was just glad to be there."
Other hockey superstars, like Gordie Howe for example, are bitterly resentful of the poor pay they received in their early years. Is John resentful, and does the big money now attract young men to the game as much as anything else?
"Money definitely plays a big role in attracting new players. Stars are in demand and they demand good money. Thankfully the N.H.L. does not have free agency comparable to the American and National Baseball leagues. At least you can control the situation in hockey because if you don't the Madison Square Garden Group and the Los Angeles Kings are going to control hockey because of the wealth they can spend on talent.
"The downside on that-playing for the big money-is the emphasis to become a star, not a member of the team. Since the advent of agents there's no real loyalty to the teams. It's look after yourself first."
John Ferguson was a very loyal player and even in the off-season while playing for Montreal he still would not even talk to members of opposing teams. What made him so fanatical about the game?
"Hockey was my whole life from the time I was a kid. I was raised in Vancouver and at that time there were only three arenas and practice time had to be shared with the figure skaters. I used to get up at five a.m. every day and get in as much ice time as I could. I guess that was the secret of my success. I persevered. I finished high school at Vancouver Technical School then went to Melville, and played in the Saskatchewan Junior League. I kept persisting and persisting until I finally got a chance with the Canadiens. The biggest luck is to get that chance to play in the N.H.L., but don't expect to go in right away. You have to work hard and become a self-made hockey player."
Aside from being accepted by the Canadiens, what was the biggest thrill?
"Winning the Stanley Cup the first time was the most invigorating feeling anyone could ever have. But I never lost my enthusiasm for winning a second or a third. And believe me, winning it is tough to do. You never get enough of winning, but you learn to take the ups with the downs. You have to remember you will be meeting the same guys coming down as you met going up."
What advice does John have for young players?
"It's terribly expensive for parents nowadays to get a kid into minor hockey. Some people just can't afford the equipment which is tough because their boy may have great potential. I think if a player wants to get into pro hockey he should start skating as soon as he can walk.
"My best advice to young players is to stay away from drugs, they can ruin your life. I've had players succumb to them. One guy who played for me had so much talent, but he got into drugs and he went downhill fast. Now he's completely out of the game.
"Get your education and stay away from drugs. That's it."
I'm pleased to report that you will never hear of a tag day for John Ferguson. He is an astute business person whose investments have made him very wealthy. It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
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