Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Savard’s antics bookended Fergie’s ‘72 experience

cap009John Ferguson admires a cigar ad featuring himself prior to the ‘72 Canada-Russia Summit Series. Despite the Team Canada victory, he was not smiling after the pre and post-series antics of his friend, and former teammate, Serge Savard.

In October 1972, Team Canada made their triumphant return to Montreal’s Dorval Airport, after winning the Summit Series over Russia. They were greeted by thousands of cheering fans and dignitaries, such as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau .

“I can’t believe the response we’ve had,” said Team Canada assistant coach John Ferguson,upon the team’s arrival home. “It’s an experience I’ll never forget in my life.”

Retired since the 1971 season, the one-time Montreal Canadiens enforcer had turned down an invitation to play and instead took on a coaching roll under Harry Sinden.

Ferguson was returning from Europe, after the grueling eight-game series victory, with a fantastic personal trophy.

Clutched in his hands, as he made his way through the airport crowds, was a Team Canada hockey stick that had been signed by all the players on the team.

The stick was seldom out of sight, as Team Canada left Moscow for a single exhibition game against the Czech National team in Prague.

From there it was off to Paris and then home. All the while, Ferguson kept the stick in his clutches at restaurants, hotels and airports. Sinden even claimed that one night he saw his assistant coach go into the men’s room with it, and lock the door.

Ferguson already had plans to mount the stick on his den wall once he got home. It never got there thanks to some unsuspected thieving hands from one of his best friends,

SavardMtlCelebrateSerge Savard is escorted by RCMP officers as Team Canada ‘72 made their way into Dorval Airport- photo: Montreal Gazette

As the players made their way to the receiving line with Prime Minister Trudeau and Mayor Drapeau, Ferguson was lined up behind Team Canada defenseman, and former Canadiens teammate, Serge Savard.

Savard had finished exchanging words with the Prime Minister when Ferguson heard him say, “And, by the way, look what John Ferguson brought home for you.”

“Before I could say ‘Sacre Bleu!’ Serge had had gently pulled the autographed stick from my hands while I temporarily contracted a case of lockjaw,” he wrote in his biography “Thunder and Lightning.”

If it had it been Guy Lapointe, another Team Canada rearguard and noted joker in the Habs dressing room, it probably would not have been as much of a surprise to Ferguson.

Had someone tried to take, or knock a stick out of John Ferguson’s hands during a his playing days, there likely would have been retaliation on his part with serious repercussions to whoever did it.

“I was speechless, I wanted to throttle him,” he later told Brian McFarlane in “True Hockey Stories: The Habs".”

Before a group of dignitaries however, it was a different case. The Prime Minister happily accepted the stick and thanked the shocked and puzzled Ferguson.

“What could I say?” Ferguson said in his book. “Finally I forced a few words out, ‘Uh, er, you’re welcome, Mr. Prime Minister,’ I said. It was nothing.” Extracting some revenge on his friend, he grinded his heel into Savard’s Gucci shoes while talking to Trudeau.

The Prime Minister handed it over to one the members in his entourage and that was the last John Ferguson ever saw of his stick.

Ferguson later told McFarlane that a staff member from the Prime Minister’s office had got wind of the Savard prank and had offered to return the stick to him. “I said Trudeau could keep it,” Ferguson said.

The stick incident wasn’t the first time Savard had foiled Ferguson’s plans in 1972.

During Team Canada’s August training camp in Toronto, Ferguson had a good tip on a race horse he once owned at the Fort Erie track.

The players had the day off, but Sinden had his coaches working. Savard and Ferguson were both avid racehorse owners, so the latter asked a favour of his friend.

“Drive to Fort Erie today and bet a horse for me in the seventh race,” Ferguson said. “Bet $100 win, $100 place and $100 show. What ever you do, wait until the last minute to place the bets. We don’t want to attract any attention and kill the odds.”

Savard rented a car and made his way to the track and realized that if Ferguson could benefit from a windfall, why shouldn’t he?

Unfortunately, Savard was unfamiliar with the Fort Erie track. Hearing the “One minute to post” call, he made his way to the window to place the bets on the 7-1 odds.

The only problem was it was a cashier window, and he needed to be at the other end of the building to place his bets. The other thing Savard didn’t know is that at Ontario tracks, “ one minute” is just that. The tracks in Quebec, that he was more familiar with, used the “One-minute” call, but allowed a five minute window for late bets.

“He’s going to kill me!” Savard thought to himself.

Ferguson’s tip placed second, and would have doubled their money. Instead, Savard was going home with their even $600, less the cost of the car rental which he felt Ferguson should still pay for.

“C’mon Fergy, anyone can make a mistake,” Savard pleaded.

“True, Serge,” Ferguson replied. “You’ve proved that often enough.”

All was forgiven between the pair of course, and the two remained lifelong friends and business partners.

Nine years after the stick snatching incident, Ferguson, now GM of the Winnipeg Jets, took Savard in the 1981 Waiver Draft after the Canadiens failed to properly file his retirement papers.


Ferguson was persistent to convince his friend not to retire and two months into the 1981-82 season, Savard finally agreed. He would play two final seasons in Winnipeg  before retiring officially.

A Keane connection: Former Canadiens captain Mike  Keane owes a debt of gratitude to Serge Savard and John Ferguson. Left undrafted, Keane had been playing minor hockey in Winnipeg. Ferguson had watched him play there and gave Savard, now GM of the Canadiens, a call. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sources for this article:

The Montreal Gazette, October 3, 1972

The Montreal Gazette, “How Serge pushed Fergie to the Brink” – by Ted Blackman - August 15, 1981

“Thunder and Lightning” by John Ferguson with Stan and Shirley Fischler

“True Hockey Stories: The Habs” by Brian McFarlane

“’72 From Training Camp to Victory” - DVD

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story! Really fun to read. I have to think Ferguson somehow took his revenge at some point though. That could make for another good post! ;)