And now for something completely different. My name is Allan Katz and I grew up in Cote Des Neiges, Montreal. One day I will write about my very short careers as a pro hockey player and football player, but for now, the fact is I became an actor and a writer. My comedy troupe Mad in Canada which I created with Police Academy’s Megan Smith, Boombat’s Tony DeSantis and Broadway talent superstar Avery Saltzman ran for six months in Toronto and another six months in Montreal. Our final show was a full house at Roy Thompson Hall. After SCTV and winning best newcomer in Canadian Television, in an improbable tie with my first cousin Judah Katz, I was invited to Los Angeles where I’ve been for over thirty years. The apex for me here was writing the Miramax film DIAMONDS and acting in it with Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lauren Bacall. My sports writing style will be a little “outside the penalty box,” but rather than explain it I will share with you my first piece about one of the greatest hockey fighters of all time; John Ferguson.
I could not sit any more! I leapt to my feet and even though I was alone in my parents’ living room I cheered. I wasn’t cheering for the grace of my demi-god Jean Beliveau, I wasn’t cheering for a cannonading drive by Jacques Lemaire, I wasn’t cheering for a Yvan Cournoyer super dash; no, I was cheering for John Ferguson to get in a fight and hopefully break someone’s jaw. I didn’t care which Vancouver Canuck he would tear apart, to be honest, I wanted it to be one of their better players, just not Charlie Hodge, a former Hab. I was a chubby fifteen-year-old virgin who prized Playboy Magazines and the Montreal Canadiens and I wanted blood, teeth, and pieces of bone. The problem was not one Canuck on the ice was willing to drop their gloves and hit him. Fergie skated to each player, a face filled with fury-of-the-gods and all skated away. So he skated to ten feet in front of the Canucks’ bench and challenged anyone to come over the boards. No one dared jump those boards. But Fergie wanted blood, a pudgy fifteen-year-old wanted teeth, and inside every tavern across Quebec, drunken men rose and called for pieces of bone. Fergie must have had a vampiric thirst for fighting because what he did next was branded on my brain with a fiery “Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge!”
John Ferguson charged the Canuck bench and leapt over, fist first followed by body and skates straight on into a battle with three Canucks at the same moment. They had no chance. It didn’t matter what happened next. It was the act of leaping like an angry stallion into a bench of hockey players, and they were all scared of him… and that was practically orgasmic to watch.
Beliveau made me open my mouth in awe, Cournoyer made me gasp, the Mahovalich brothers made me cheer, but Fergie, Fergie made me leap out of my chair as my mind and soul screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!” Fergie made this Mama’s boy, PRIMAL.
Fergie and I were fighting partners, he hit and I cheered him on. I think I might have needed him more than he needed me. But I still thought of us as a team.
I live in Los Angeles now, but I still hear the echoes of a Maurice Richard slap shot hit the boards and resonate through the whole arena during an old-timers game that my Dad took me to. I still hear the sounds coming from the cavernous Forum as I walked through the halls to see this amazing cathedral for the first time and see the incredible vision of THE MONTREAL JUNIOR CANADIENS! Their uniforms were so red, so incredible, I could hear angels singing. Led by Rejean Houle and Gilbert Perreault they danced and flew before a packed Forum. Victory? Nothing else was possible.
But John Ferguson was something else. He was a savage puncher and took nothing from anyone. Go on YouTube and watch Erik Nesterenko, a toughie himself, slam Fergie in the head with his stick. What’s amazing is who’s blood hits the ice first and how quickly. No staged fight here and Fergie’s haymakers are fast and accurate.
The strange thing is I’m not sure I support fighting in hockey anymore, but this story is not about fighting. This is about becoming a man from a boy; this is about the passion of being a hockey fan; this is about being lucky enough to be growing up in Montreal when the Greek Gods learned to speak French and play hockey and chose the Forum to be their Mount Olympus.
When I look at today’s Montreal Canadiens I see them through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old. The Kings have won two Cups while I’ve lived here, but watching them lose the cup to Montreal, while hosting the Great Gretzky, has been my hockey highlight. Once smitten by this team there are no second choices. They course through my veins, blue on the inside, red when exposed to air.
I have long passed the days of wanting Blood, Teeth, and Pieces of Bone. Fergie is still inside me, fighting battles and mostly winning them, but he is a memory, a wisp of smoke…. And yet …
The next time the Montreal Canadiens come to California I will be in the stands. I’ll be watching for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, cheering for Brendan Gallagher, in awe of Carey Price, but… If Ben Chiarot slams the Kings’ Drew Doughty against the boards, and fists start flying, a fifteen-year-old will leap to his feet, eyes will widen, my heart will race and I will cheer Chiarot on as my mind screams for him to punch and destroy Doughty. And inside my older body, a wisp of smoke will turn into an ember … and time will stop.