SUN Hockey Pool

Watch out below when Fergie's in the house

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

The Winnipeg Arena will close its doors for good next month. Until then The Sun will bring you the stories that made the Old Barn memorable. From the original construction to the final buzzer, we'll take you through the history of a building that was never spectacular but always colourful as a sports venue.

When organizers of the Winnipeg Arena farewell night were compiling a guest list, they may as well have started with the letter F. As in Fergie.

After all, there are few people more synonymous with the Old Barn and its glory days as the home of the Winnipeg Jets than John Bowie Ferguson.

The former Jets general manager, who was calling the shots when the team joined the NHL in 1979, will be at the Arena's closing night when the AHL's Manitoba Moose host the Utah Grizzlies Saturday, Nov. 6.

It's not the first time Ferguson has been invited to a funeral for a building loaded with personal memories.

"I was at Boston Garden when they closed it, and they awarded me the (visitors) penalty box as a keepsake," a chuckling Fergie told The Sun in a recent interview. "I guess they thought I sat in there enough."

One of the NHL's most feared fighters in the 1960s, Ferguson rang up 1,214 penalty minutes in his eight-year playing career with the Montreal Canadiens.

He brought the same intensity to the GM's chair -- just check out what former New York Ranger Phil Esposito told Hockey Digest about Fergie's tour of duty on Broadway.

"Man, he was a fierce competitor," Esposito said. "He hated losing. He punched the crap out of me ... when we were losing a game."

Coming to Winnipeg didn't mellow him, either. Ask anyone who ever watched him in his booth high up in the Arena press box.

You'd never know what you'd see flying out the open window.

"I threw a lot of things onto the ice," Fergie said. "Once I threw a bucket of ice onto Scotty Bowman, who was coaching the Buffalo Sabres."

Fergie himself once nearly took the direct route to the ice surface below.

"I almost fell out," he admitted. "I was holding on, believe me, or I was going right out the press box window. The next day, I had the glass put in."

While his beloved Jets never had the kind of playoff success Fergie envisioned, he has no trouble recalling highlights of his nine-year tenure here, beginning with the crowds.

"The fans were really good," he said. "They were loyal, and they knew their hockey. It's amazing how the Winnipeg fans knew their hockey."

Six months after Fergie took over the team in 1978, the underdog Jets won the final AVCO Cup on Arena ice.

"We beat Gretzky and the Oilers in the final game in the WHA," he said. "That really stands out. Lyle Moffat scored the winner."

There were the NHL playoff battles with the Flames and Oilers that followed -- most of them losses, mind you. There was the 96-point season of 1984-85, when the Jets finished fourth overall, and their playoff series win over Calgary in '87.

But a regular season game in 1979 meant as much to Fergie as anything: the first visit by his former team, the storied Canadiens -- dubbed Tuxedo Night, where everyone from fans to coaches to the Zamboni driver got dressed to the nines.

Before a national TV audience, the little expansion team from the prairies beat the four-time defending Stanley Cup champs, 6-2.

"We beat the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada," Fergie beamed, savouring every word like one of his favourite cigars.

Replaced as GM by Mike Smith in '88, Fergie remains in the game, as special consultant to the GM in San Jose. He's spent much of his time this season watching the Sharks AHL prospects in Cleveland.

But at least one AHL trip will bring him back to Winnipeg, and the former Maroons Road address he used to call home.

If anybody's wondering about the perfect parting gift, Fergie's got a suggestion.

"My seat in the press box," he said.

Maybe we could get him to toss it down to the ice, just for old time's sake.


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