By Joeseph R. BeareBoston --
As a member of the Calgary Flames, new Boston Bruin Andrew Ference
became accustomed to facing the Edmonton Oilers eight times a year.
So it seems appropriate that Ference’s debut in a Boston sweater came against those very same Oilers.
Ference skated on Garden Ice for the first time since his trade on Hail to the Chief night, when the TD Banknorth Garden honored Edmonton native, and Boston Bruins legend, Johnny “Chief” Bucyk.
Ference, who also spend his childhood in Edmonton, feels that the familiarity he has with the current Oilers squad made his first-game adjustments easier.
“It’s kinda nice, having that be your first game. It’s a bunch of guys that you’re familiar with, so there’s no real surprises,” said Ference of the Oilers, the team he followed growing up. “It’s good that this is my first match up. I have new teammates, but at least my opponent is well-known.”
Andrew’s words would prove prophetic as he played a dominant physical game on the backend for the Bruins, much to the delight of the throngs of Boston faithful there to cheer on their current squad and pay tribute to the Chief.
In 22 minutes and 43 seconds of ice time, Ference registered a plus-1 rating and his physical play was an important contributing factor to Boston’s perfect 7-for-7 evening on the penalty kill.
Second only to captain Zdeno Chara
in total time on ice for the contest, Ference was strong along the boards and knocked down several Oilers with solid contact along the boards.
One instance saw Ference make a particularly strong play when he thwarted a scoring chance by Edmonton's Ryan Smyth.
As Smyth attempted to beat him to the outside, Ference threw the gritty forward to the ice, legally, negating the opportunity and drawing an appreciative roar from the 16,449 on hand.
In addition to knowing his first opponent very well, Ference is not entirely unfamiliar with his teammates or surroundings.
As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, road trips to Boston were a common occurrence. And from 2003-2005, Ference skated alongside fellow Bruin Sean Donovan for a successful Calgary club.
“On road trips, obviously, you hit up the area around the hotel you’re staying at, so, I’ve been around Newbury Street and that area,” said Ference, referring to his trips to Boston as part of a visiting team. “Just yesterday I went for a good little hike, did the Red Line thing through the city.”
Andrew is also a fan of the great dining to be found just up the street in Boston’s famous North End. “When we were here earlier with the Flames, we went to Hanover (Street) for dinner with Dono (Sean Donovan), and last night went back to a new place.”
Having Donovan around to show him the ropes on and off the ice has made the transition easier as well. “It helps to have someone to show you the ins and outs,” said Ference, who went to the Stanley Cup Finals with Donovan in 2004.
The B’s smallest defender at 5’10, 195 pounds, Ference is also well acquainted with the Bruins’ largest, captain Zdeno Chara
The two know each other from junior hockey, and have bonded over their shared love of cycling.
“I know â€˜Dono’ really well, and I know â€˜Z’ a bit from juniors,” said Ference. “Even just little contacts, just guys that you’re familiar with, it makes it a little more comfortable.
“Me and â€˜Z’ share a love for cycling,” said Ference. “For training purposes obviously it’s great, but just for pure enjoyment I made a trip out to France last year to see the Tour de France, did some riding over there. That’s a big thing in my life.”
Andrew feels that it’s his east coast experience with Pittsburgh that is a real blessing for his adjustments off the ice. He isn’t worried in the least about his ability to adjust to the Eastern Conference style of play.
“It’s all hockey. At the end of the day, it’s all the same sport,” said Ference. “It’s probably better for the family that we’ve been out here before just because they know…it’s not totally foreign, we’ve done it before.
"So it’s probably even more helpful on the ice than off the ice,” he said.
One thing that will take some getting used to, surprisingly, is the Boston weather.
“In Calgary it’s like minus-30, but it's sunny,” says Ference. “It doesn’t feel like it’s that cold.
"Here it goes right through you!”
Though he may not have the size or poundage of Chara or Andrew Alberts, Ference brings a hard-nosed style to the ice each and every game. Hard work, he feels, is the catalyst for all other personal and team success. If the effort and focus are there, the rest of the pieces fall in to place.
“Obviously experience with building teams in Calgary, changing the attitude of a team, the outlook of it,” said Ference. “My role in Calgary was to be an emotional leader, and that’s through my play and being the kind of guy who will go out there and set the tone, sacrifice, throw the body, work hard, whatever it is, doing the little things that teammates pick up on and notice, setting an example.
“Making the first pass, and all those good things come along with it, but the priority is always to have the emotion and the hard work dominate your game, and everything falls in behind that. The passing, good plays, they all work if you have your priorities in order.”
Sean Donovan, who went to the Stanley Cup Finals with Calgary in 2004, feels that Andrew’s hard working attitude will be a good fit on the ice and in the locker room for the Bruins going forward.
“He’s a good guy, guys like him, he’s a team guy, and he just fits in well,” said Donovan. “He’s the kinda guy that I’m sure the reporters will like because he’s always got something cool to say.
“Plus you’ll see the way he plays, it’s pretty hard core. (He's got a) good first pass, he’s a really good skater, and I think that he’s going to be somebody that people get attached to around here.”
As his penalty minute totals will attest, Ference is never one to shy away from the grittier aspects of the game. This season, Andrew is on pace for 100 penalty minutes, and already has a pair of fighting majors under his belt.
Though he’s as tough as they come on the ice, one would never peg him as a fighter off it. The friendly, well-spoken Ference, whose daughter Eva is just 18 months old, says that missing his family has been the hardest part of the move to Boston thus far.
“It’s tough to be away from your (family) for a while, but they come in a couple weeks,” said Ference. “But actually I got kinda lucky…(I) have built in video conferencing (on my computer). At least now I can be in my hotel room and we can see each other.
“I’m looking for any positives, not being able to see them for a couple of weeks,” he laughed. “They’ll come down at the end of the road trip and stay for the remainder of the season.”
In their spare time, Ference and his wife, a former professional snowboarder, enjoy exploring new parts of the world and staying active. Both are avid snowboarders during the winter months, and in the summer they trade in their jackets for wetsuits for a little off-season surfing.
“Summertime we surf a lot, we go down to Brazil. We’ve gone snowboarding a lot up in Whistler, up to Glacier,” says Ference. “So we both love that.”
Ference plans for Eva to join in on the fun as soon as she’s old enough to strap on a board.
“Yeah our daughter’s going to be way into that,” Ference says of his wife’s former profession. “She seems to have energy to keep up now, so that should be good.”
Though he’s only been in town for a few days, Ference has already begun exploring the city of Boston, a destination that, along with New York, is a favorite of visiting players.
“When we came on road trips it was always about coming to New York and Boston, those were the two cities that were everybody’s favorite, so it’s definitely a nice transition coming to a city that is so well liked.”
Just days after his move to Boston, Ference is already settling in nicely. He’s been perusing the Boston real-estate market (“It’s a little more expensive than back home,” he quipped) and anxiously anticipating the arrival of his family; ready to begin what he hopes will be a successful new chapter in his career wearing the black and gold.
And if his first game is any indication, Ference’s gritty, hard-working style of play will make him a fan favorite in Beantown for years to come.
----Joe Beare works at The Sports Museum, and is a student at Northeastern University.