Promise kept to Fergie

John Ferguson Sr. was tough on the ice but gentle off it. (Sun File/Debbie Holloway)

John Ferguson Sr. was tough on the ice but gentle off it. (Sun File/Debbie Holloway)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

It was July 15, 2006, when John Ferguson Sr. stood at the Rockcliffe Gazebo on a melting, hot summer day wearing a tuxedo and a wide smile.

The occasion was my marriage to Maria McClintock and I wanted to make sure before the wedding I thanked "Fergie" and his wife Joan for making the trek by train from Windsor to spend our special day with us.

"We wouldn't have missed this for the world, Brucey," he told me with a big hug. "You've never done me any wrong. You've always been good to me. I'm glad we could make it."

So were we.

And it means more now.

As we arrived back at our hotel room in Picton late Saturday night after an anniversary celebration dinner, a flashing light on the cellphone with a text message from Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill carried bad news.

"Our buddy has passed away," said Nill.

It seems like yesterday, but it was November when Fergie was diagnosed with bone cancer. The prognosis wasn't good, but he wasn't going to let it get him down either.

"What are you going to do?." I asked when he told me the news after missing the retirement of close friend Serge Savard's No. 5 in Montreal.

"I'm just going to fight it," he said in typical Fergie fashion.

And, battle it, he did. Until he succumbed to his second bout with cancer at his home Saturday afternoon, Fergie used the same fighting spirit that made him a five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens.

The public saw John Ferguson as a big bruising winger who wore No. 22 for the Montreal Canadiens, played eight seasons, scored more than 300 points in a prolific career and may have been one of the toughest players to ever put on the "CH."

I was lucky enough to get to know Fergie, the talented hockey man with a keen eye for potential, the avid golfer who was always working on his game at Essex Country Club in Windsor and the devoted family man who couldn't wait to get home to spend time with Joan.

LOVED HORSES

As much as Fergie lived for hockey, he also had an affinity for horses. Sitting in his basement during the NHL lockout in 1994 while he was director of player personnel with the Senators, I said: "Fergie, just how many horses do you own?"

He looked around the room, made sure Joan wasn't within earshot, and gave me the straight goods. "Seven, but don't say a bloody word, my wife only knows about five."

He smiled. Joan, a former figure skater, had been his lifelong love. There wasn't a tough bone in his body when she was around.

The last eight months were not easy on Fergie. This was a man who was used to being on the go all the time. He found a hockey game every night of the week, stayed until the final buzzer and then went home to watch the Sharks on the dish.

Before Fergie passed away on the weekend, he'd probably already died a thousand deaths. He couldn't stand watching his teams lose, had a strong passion for whoever he was working for, and, at the end, just wanted his son John Ferguson Jr. to have success as GM of the Maple Leafs.

"Geez, I'm telling you, it's the Leafs that are killing me, not this cancer," he said on the phone in mid-March with the Leafs trying to stave off elimination from the NHL playoffs.

That was Fergie. We talked every day. Sometimes we'd be on the phone two or three times a day. Bell Canada is going to miss the money they made off us at the trade deadline because we may as well have just put direct lines in each other's homes.

Our relationship wasn't based on the fact I covered hockey and Fergie liked to help me out. We were friends, planning a trip to Scotland this summer to play some of the world's finest golf courses and attend a couple of rounds of next week's British Open.

The last time I spoke to Fergie was before the Senators played the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup final. He was awake when I called early one day and Joan passed the phone over for the final time.

"I'm really excited for those guys going to the final," said Fergie. "Do me a favour Brucey, don't ever let people forget I got (the Senators) Daniel Alfredsson."

I promised him I wouldn't.

That's one I'm going to keep.


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