Hockey isn't life

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

So there was John Ferguson, Jr., sitting in the stands at the downtown arena yesterday, in a deep discussion with local player agent Don Baizley while his team practised down below.

Perhaps trying to iron out a deal for Peter Forsberg or Teemu Selanne, two of Baizley's free agent clients?

Maybe.

Or maybe it was just a matter of catching up with friends and family.

Because for Fergie, Jr., a Winnipegger who grew up to be the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey isn't everything. It wasn't before, and it certainly isn't now, two months after the death of his dad.

And while that experience may not have changed his outlook on life, it certainly reinforced it.

As did some of his father's final words of advice, once the former Jets GM finally accepted that, this time, he wasn't going to beat the cancer that had hold of him.

"Take care of your mother. Take care of your sisters. You're the head of the household," Ferguson recalled his dad saying. "It always meant a great deal. I always looked out for them. But clearly it took on a different tone, a different meaning."

That's what Ferguson takes from those last, difficult days, a time he and his dad connected like many fathers and sons only wish they could.

Fergie, Sr., had given his son plenty of professional advice over the years, reminding him to stick with it, trust his gut and never stop standing up for himself or his team.

But this was a period when the job of running a hockey team took a back seat to real life.

"It has always been secondary," Ferguson said. "We've got a son of five and a half months, who's really the light of our lives. We're healthy. My mother is healthy. Everyone goes through challenges in life. Everyone goes through tough times. The tough times don't last. Tough people do.

"I am confident, optimistic, generally. I've got many more things to be thankful for than things to worry about. And I've got a great opportunity here."

And with that, the conversation shifted from personal to professional, where the son of one of the game's all-time toughest hombres occupies one of the hottest seats in hockey.

Depending on what day you open a Toronto newspaper, Ferguson should either be strung up high above Yonge Street, tied to the top of the CN Tower or run over several times by a Zamboni. This is what it's like when the Leafs miss the playoffs on your watch -- two years in a row.

The fact he's working on just a one-year contract extension -- the pro sports equivalent of being blindfolded, put on the plank and pointed towards the edge -- only turns the heat up a few hundred degrees.

"The expectation was it was going to be more in June. That failed to materialize," Ferguson said of his dealings with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "It doesn't change the opportunity I have. It doesn't change my confidence in this club and my future here. Which is strong. We expect to make the playoffs, and plan to do something when we get there."

Push a little harder, and you get what you'd expect from Fergie's son: he pushes right back.

"Not only am I not afraid of free agency, it can often be very lucrative. When you have success. So there's something to look forward to."

With that, Ferguson would go back to running the most psychoanalyzed team in hockey.

But not before revisiting some old haunts with some old Winnipeg friends.

"Really, I grew up here," he said. "I was here for something like 12 years. Mona Lisa Pizza was always a favourite. I'm going to have dinner at Hy's. That's always a good spot. We'll go by Rae and Jerry's. That place is classic.

"It's great to be back here."


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