VANCOUVER -- There were 207 players taken before Andrew Ference in the 1997 Entry Draft, and about 57 percent of them never played in the NHL.
A big reason that scouts and organizations may have doubted him is his size, but Ference has crafted a long career by not allowing things like draft position or how many players at his position are taller than him impede his progress.
"I wasn't even rated to get drafted so I wasn't even sure I was going to be an eighth-round pick, but for me the draft was never a big deal," said Ference, a defenseman who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 189 pounds. "I didn't put a whole lot of stock into it because there are plenty of stories of guys who are undrafted or late drafts and I came into the League in the era where defensemen were slightly a bit taller than I was and a little bigger too.
"I wasn't surprised or offended by it. I looked at the draft as an opportunity to get a foot in the door. I knew once you get your foot in the door, you have a shot. I wasn't satisfied with getting my foot in the door or my first training camp, and I think if you remain like that and you're never satisfied, then you're always going to push to get greedy and want more and more and more and try to get more ice and it just works out."
Ference has now played 640 regular-season games in the NHL and has become a key figure on the blue line for the Boston Bruins. While Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg deservedly receive plenty of plaudits for their work, Ference has basically evolved into the team's No. 3 defenseman and gives the Bruins quality depth at the position.
He missed at least 23 games with injuries in the previous three seasons, but appeared in 70 contests in 2010-11 and has 2 goals and 7 points in Boston's 19 postseason games.
"He maybe a smaller defenseman in stature, but he certainly plays like a big guy -- very physical, smart and his battle is second to none for a guy his size," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "He's been solid for us. He's been a player that for the first time in a long has been a pretty healthy player for us all year. We knew how good he was, but throughout the last few years he's had to battle some injuries. Every time he came back it took a while to find his game again and when he did he'd go back down to an injury. This year he's been pretty healthy overall and he's certainly showing his value right now."
After being drafted by Pittsburgh, Ference spent two more years playing for Portland in the Western Hockey League and two years bouncing between the American Hockey League and the Penguins before becoming a full-time NHL player. He has spent the last five seasons with the Bruins.
Ference has had some bursts of offense during his career, but he is definitely best known as a defense-first guy. While the nature of the NHL has changed and smaller defensemen are able to thrive because of the rule changes, Ference has continued to play the same kind of game -- be positionally sound, skate well and be abrasive when necessary.
"That's only because I got to feed Dion [Phaneuf] the puck on the power play," Ference said of his career-high 31 points for Calgary in 2005-06. "And in Pittsburgh I got to feed Mario [Lemieux] and [Jaromir] Jagr, so it was a little easier to get points. [Jagr] would tell me too, ‘If you want points, give it to me.'
"It is the same sport and I don't know how to play any different. It is just go there and do your thing and you hope to be with a team that doesn't mind having the type of player that you are. It is a lot of luck, don't get me wrong. It is a lot of hard work and perseverance and stuff like that, but there's a ton of luck involved and being with the right team and the right coach and having people that trust you. I don't forget that."
Ference has also become something of an unofficial spokesman for the Bruins. His ability to interact with the media has made him a popular interview subject during this postseason, but he's also dealt with some backlash because of his honest approach.
He declined to defend teammate Daniel Paille after a hit on Dallas' Raymond Sawada in early February, pointing out that it was one of the types of hits the League is trying to get rid of. Pundits ripped Ference for breaking the NHL's "code," but he did not back away from his comments.
"I think his personality is fine," Julien said. "You get the typical answers from players when you ask questions. He is one of those guys who maybe thinks those things through maybe a little bit more and will elaborate a little bit more on his answers. I think that makes [the media] happy. I think he's been pretty honest as a player as well answering those kinds of questions. I know he's been through some tough times where he's been criticized and it was probably not founded. He's stood tall for himself and I think the players respect him for that."
Ference has also been one of several NHL players who has tried to raise awareness about protecting the environment. He has done some work with the David Suzuki Foundation after befriending the well-known Canadian television personality and environmental activist.
"I met David when I played in Calgary," Ference said. "Obviously I had a lot of respect for him growing up as a kid like a lot of Canadians who watched his shows and learned a lot from him. I had a chance to meet him, and he helped kind of give me a kick in the butt to do more things publicly and through hockey. Directly working the foundation we set up the carbon neutral challenge with the players' association. I think that helped kick the League in the butt to do some more stuff as well.
They've helped kind of guide us in the right direction to do things as players at home or professionally and also from the team's point of view for them to be more responsible with stuff."