by Ron Duquette
It was very upsetting to this writer, to learn last week of the resignation of Montreal Quebecois President, John Ferguson. Many will remember “Fergie” as the tough guy who used to patrol left wing for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL.
John has a magic touch. During the years he played NHL hockey, he earned a permanent spot in the hearts of Montreal fans—a rare accomplishment for an English/Canadian player. I had an opportunity to witness this unique popularity when discovering it was impossible to find a quiet corner in a bar in Quebec City, prior to this season with “Fergie” to talk lacrosse. Everywhere he goes in the Province, he is instantly recognized and admitted.
Some find it puzzling that “Fergie” became involved in lacrosse rather than in hockey after retiring as an active competitor. Those people, however, aren’t aware that lacrosse played a large part in John Ferguson’s like—before he became a hockey star. He was one of the top lacrosse players in western Canada and, in his last year, he not only won the Most Valuable Player Trophy in that league, but also scored 52 goals for the Nanaimo Labatt’s, second only to lacrosse great of the time, Jack Bionda.
So when Morley Kells and Jim Bishop started to work on the idea of forming a professional league with teams from Canada and the United States two years ago, they didn’t have to do much of a selling job to get Ferguson involved with the Montreal franchise.
“Fergie” was more deeply involved in his team last year. Having been a fierce competitor himself, he wanted to see his team succeed, naturally. And when things started to go sour, “Big John” took over as Coach to make sure his protégés responded to the task. “Actually, I didn’t want to end up coaching the team. But, unfortunately, at the start of the season when our record was one and four, playing coach Bill Bradley made some statements that didn’t go over well with some of the media people. So in order to rectify the situation, I took over the coaching of the club and Bradley continued as a player.” It worked out well. Montreal averaged over 7,000 fans per game and made the playoffs.
Behind the bench, and in a similar fashion to Morley Kells, Ferguson is a one-man show in himself. Shouting, gesturing, and generally letting it be known that anyone who riles him will have to face the wrath of big, mean, John Ferguson. He paces up and down, lets the referees know exactly what he thinks of their calls, and unloads blasts left, right, and center. “Come on guys, get back on defense. Hey ref, what kind of bleeping call was that? Dammit, don’t you know how to play lacrosse?” The fans loved it.
At times it was not unusual to see a players bench or a wet towel come tearing across the floor from the Montreal bench. Coach Kells vividly, an incident in Rochester last season, where the two coaches met in the corridor between periods. An argument that started during the game, continued. Kells found himself being held very tightly by the necktie, with
an enormous fist waving in front of his nose. To this day, Morley is thankful to be alive to joke about it. The two, incidentally, have Jekyll and Hyde personalities and off the floor, are the greatest of friends. In fact, they now joke about that and many other incidents from season past.
“Fergie”’s resignation came after a growing disagreement on the team’ operation with co-owner Nelson Stoll and General Manager and Coach, Jim Bishop. The rift started between Stoll and “Fergie” when Bishop was hired this season and finally came to a crashing finale when the new Montreal Coach traded Jim Lynch, last year’s league “Rookie of the Year” to the Philadelphia Wings, because they weren’t getting along. “We just don’t see eye to eye,” John admits. “And he is running the club so I guess it will be better if it remains that way.”
Many feel that John’s leaving will hurt the Quebecois team and their drawing power. I say that it will be pro lacrosse’s benefit if he returns, in some capacity, very quickly!
Big John Ferguson will be sadly missed around lacrosse circles.