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Hockey dignitaries, officials gather to mourn the death of Habs enforcer

The Canadian Press
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John Ferguson Jr. and his wife Stephanie leave the church after the funeral for his father, John Bowie Ferguson in Windsor, Ontario Saturday. (CP PHOTO/Dave Chidley) Author: The Hockey News

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Hockey dignitaries, officials gather to mourn the death of Habs enforcer

The Canadian Press
By:

That was one of the credos by which former Montreal Canadians enforcer John Ferguson Sr. led his life - on and off the ice.

But while Ferguson made his name as a tough guy in the mid 1960s to early 1970s, the hundreds of mourners who packed the All Saints Anglican Church here Saturday morning remembered a devoted father and husband.

"I strive to emulate my father's traits," said Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr., who remembered his dad as an altruistic, caring and compassionate man.

Ferguson, who rarely lost a fight on the ice during his career, succumbed to cancer last Saturday at the age of 68.

"He lived by standards that may seem incongruous to those who don't know him," the younger Ferguson said.

The service began with a family procession punctuated by the sombre sound of bagpipes. And during an emotional eulogy, the younger Ferguson shared some of his favourite memories.

Once, when his father came home with a cast on his fist after an on-ice incident with Eddie Westfall, the younger Ferguson, who was five when his father retired, asked his dad if he'd ever lost a fight on the ice.

"Only to your mom, son," the enforcer replied.

Ferguson Jr. also told the crowded church how his parents met 56 years ago in Vancouver, and how their love and dedication to one another was an inspiration and an example.

"I now know that no boy or family could ever have a better father," he said.

Ted Foreman, a close friend who worked with the elder Ferguson during his tenure as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, said his friend was like a "good dinner roll - crusty on the outside but soft on the inside."

Ferguson Sr. was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2005, and Ferguson's daughter, Joanne, recalled how her father's courage and determination never swayed.

"Cancer is so limited, it cannot cripple love or shatter hope," she said.

Ferguson Sr. was an integral part of a Montreal Canadians squad which won the Stanley Cup five times during his career from 1964 to 1971.

In 500 regular-season games, he accumulated 303 points (145 goals, 158 assists).

His rugged playing style also earned him 1,214 penalty minutes.

Joining the senior Ferguson's four children, 10 grandchildren and hundreds of friends were many familiar faces from the hockey world such as Montreal Canadians legend Serge Savard.

"People have to remember that when John Ferguson played in the American League he was an all-star who scored 40 goals," said Savard, who added Ferguson scored 29 goals one season and shared the ice with the likes of Jean Beliveau.

"Sure, he was a tough player, but he was also a very good player."

Savard was joined by fellow Habs legend Guy Lapointe and NHL dignitaries like Scotty Bowman, Glen Sather, Doug Wilson, Leafs coach Paul Maurice and Phoenix Coyotes centre Mike Ricci.

After retiring as a player, Ferguson Sr. managed and coached the New York Rangers before becoming the Jets general manager - a position he held from 1979 to 1988.

Ferguson, who loved horses from childhood, also managed Windsor Raceway and worked as director of player personnel for the Ottawa Senators.

Up until his death, he worked as a senior scout for the San Jose Sharks.

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Hockey dignitaries, officials gather to mourn the death of Habs enforcer