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Ference has turned green

by John McGourty
The King Clancy Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.

Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference is building a strong candidacy through his work with Right To Play International and his green initiatives in conjunction with the NHL Players' Association and the David Suzuki Foundation.

He's also doing a fine job on the left side of the Bruins' second defensive unit, partnered with Dennis Wideman.

Ference was the driving force behind the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge, with Devin Smith, NHLPA Director, Club Marketing & Community Relations. An average of 500 players have joined the carbon-neutral challenge in each of the past two seasons.

The program was designed by the David Suzuki Foundation. To calculate the players' climate impact, the Foundation looked at the regular-season schedules for each team in the NHL. The analysis included emissions from air travel to road games; road travel for home and away games; and energy used during hotel stays. On average, each player was found to be responsible for 10 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ference has met with representatives of all 30 NHL teams and has made a big impact on how business is conducted in his home rink and at the NHLPA offices in Toronto, to cite just a few places in which he's made an impact.

"TD Banknorth Garden has made a lot of changes in its recycling program," Ference said. "Phoenix has been the most extreme example with recycling, lighting and concessions. They have all biodegradable containers as they go away from plastic. Those are really big changes."

The NHLPA office has developed a conservation program that focuses on energy-efficient improvements and waste reduction. The office uses a renewable-energy source and encourages staff efforts to "go green" in their daily activities.

"Devin Smith has been my most important partner," Ference said. "We're getting guys signed up and getting programs rolled out. Devin has been the biggest help so far.

"The guys are signing up to go carbon-neutral. The numbers are lower than last year, but it's over 400 players so far this year. It's nice to see players are doing something. On a bigger scale, we're having more productive meetings with people outside the union that want to get involved in the initiatives.

"We're getting closer to a partnership with the League because we have the same kind of goals in mind. We want to be doing bigger things, getting owners involved and seeing some of the clubs make a real difference.

"We've had some magazines stories and TV stories about our initiatives. Fans mention it. I'm proud to see the players doing something. The real success is that our efforts are being appreciated by people who are trying to do things in their own lives."

Smith said Ference has been a driving force in the effort.

"We do a fall tour each year with Glenn Healy, the NHLPA director of player affairs, and other NHLPA staff," Smith said. "The carbon-neutral challenge is brought up and discussed and we have a video featuring Andrew Ference that instructs them on this topic. Vincent Lecavalier and Dr. Suzuki also appear in the video and thank the players for their involvement.

"Andrew is interested in all 'green' programs, not just the carbon-neutral challenge. That's his message; it's not just about one thing but about making a difference in every aspect of your life.

"He's been the driving force, not a spokesperson or a figurehead. He practices what he preaches and he knows his stuff. I've seen him in serious discussions with scientists and he has healthy debates. He really engages people and wants to educate and get more players to sign up. He's been great, a very impressive person. He has made a difference because he brought this to us and hasn't stopped. He understands that it is going to be a slower process than he'd like and he's been very open to discussion."

If trying to win the Stanley Cup and save the planet were not enough for one man, Ference is also involved in Right To Play, an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

Right To Play trains local community leaders as coaches to deliver its programs in countries affected by war, poverty, and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.

Ference is a nine-year NHL veteran who previously played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calgary Flames. He joined Flames defenseman Steve Montador for a July 2007 trip to Tanzania. They spent time in the capital, Dar Es Salaam, and in the Serengeti region.

"Right To Play is leading the pack in tough areas, refugee camps and orphanages," Ference said. "They get kids involved, get them to cooperate and play together. It's hard to describe how important it is to have someone care about them. It wouldn't be possible without these non-profit groups doing work. It motivates me to try to make sure things are being followed up on.

"I had been to Africa before, but that was a great chance to revisit at a more mature age. I want to be more aware of what's going on in the world, interact and talk with people and the kids in the program. It reinforces how important the programs are over there.

"It would be tough for me to turn my back on the problem and not do anything in the future. Going there was a really great experience and hopefully, I'll do another trip. I've been talking to Joe Thornton, Daniel Alfredsson. We had a charity game in Toronto before this season started. There's definitely some interest. (Detroit coach) Mike Babcock expressed interest and has been talking to them."

Ference inspired fellow Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara and former Flames' teammate Robyn Regehr, who visited Mozambique last summer. They went to the capital, Maputo, and then climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as a fundraiser. Chara wore a Right To Play hat while competing in the Hardest Shot contest last month at the NHL All-Star SuperSkills competition and earned $24,000 for Right To Play when his 104.5 mph slap shot won the competition.

Chara then embraced Right To Play Deputy Director Mark Brender on television.

"It gives us so much credibility," Brender told WEEI Radio. "A lot of times when pro athletes lend their name to a cause, it’s really just in-and-out. But when a guy like (Chara) gets involved he is so committed that he gives us credibility when we say that we have athlete ambassadors. We have many, many Olympic athlete ambassadors and it was born under the Olympic movement. ... Andrew and Zdeno are very good together."

"I went two summers ago with Steve Montador. Zdeno Chara and Robyn Regehr went last summer," Ference said. "I had some friends in the program and I had seen documentaries. Right To Play is a great organization. We got the NHL and NESN involved and the exposure was great for the organization in terms of getting more hockey players involved."

Ference hasn't let his social obligations get in the way of the Bruins' Stanley Cup pursuit. He missed 31 games after suffering a right leg injury on Nov. 14.

He was asked which emotion dominated while he was sidelined -- the desire to get back in the lineup, or his relief at seeing his team maintain its position atop the Northeast Division?

"It gets to be a little bit of both because you want to be a part of it, but it's real easy to watch," he said. "I mean, I'd rather be hurt and watch my team kicking butt than not, But it's been enjoyable. There's such a positive atmosphere where everybody's happy and positive. It makes it a lot easier to feel a lot more involved. Just the day-to-day stuff and set-up stuff, so you get to do the actual day-to-day stuff, except play, so it's not actually so bad.

"I could see feeling more jaded about it when I was younger, but there's nothing you can do about it. When you break a bone, you break a bone. Being mad about it isn't going to make it any better. You go to rehab and you get better and you look forward to getting back. You want to see your team winning, so it wasn't that hard."

Ference was acquired to play solid defense but it doesn't hurt that he's had the experience of playing in a Stanley Cup Final, with Calgary in 2004 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames lost in seven games.

It's not a feeling he wants to repeat.

"Losing is the worst feeling in the world," Ference said. "I was good friends in Calgary with Rhett Warrener and when we lost to Tampa Bay in 2004, it was the third time that he had lost in the Stanley Cup Final. He was with Florida in 1996 and Buffalo in 1999. I know how much work goes into it and to not win is devastating.

"It teaches you a lot of lessons. I have zero regrets from that playoff because one of the special things we had with that team was that we knew we gave it all we could. So, it was no regrets and no bad dreams. No 'what-ifs,' it wasn't possible."

Not Vanek, too -- Years from now, someone will look at the 2008-09 NHL standings and conclude that the Buffalo Sabres were an average team. The Sabres, who hold the No. 7 Eastern Conference playoff spot, were not built to be average. This was supposed to be the season that the core of the team -- Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad, Daniel Paille, Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera, all in their mid-20s -- would challenge for the Stanley Cup. Defenseman Craig Rivet was added to an already-solid defense, and Patrick Lalime was signed to give veteran relief to Miller.

GOALS: 32 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 52
SOG: 164 | +/-: +1

Then came the injuries. Rivet, Jochen Hecht, Ales Kotalik, Henrik Tallinder, Sekera, Teppo Numminen, Connolly, Gaustad, Maxim Afinogenov and rookie prospect Nathan Gerbe all have missed significant time with injuries this season. The Sabres have lost 163 man-games to injuries.

Vanek suffered a broken jaw in the first period of Saturday's game against Ottawa when Anton Volchenkov's slap shot struck him in the face. He was operated on Sunday and will miss at least a month.

Vanek leads the Sabres with 32 goals and 52 points. He had a legitimate chance to break his career highs of 43 goals and 84 points, set in his second season, 2006-07, when he was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team. The former University of Minnesota star is a clutch performer. He had six goals and 10 points in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games that year.

Moores' stamp of approval -- Edmonton Oilers Assistant Coach Billy Moores coached the University of Alberta Golden Bears to a Canadian Interuniversity Sport ice-hockey championship, the University Cup, in 1992 and three Canada West titles from 1989-94. He filled in as temporary coach a few years earlier when head coach Clare Drake left to coach in the NHL. Moores had a very impressive 219-78-33 record in seven seasons for a 71.2 winning percentage.

Recently named Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston was a big part of those Golden Bears teams from 1989-93. Moores has watched with pleasure as Clouston has succeeded at every level of coaching en route to the NHL. Moores saw a coach in the player a long time ago.

"We recruited Cory from the Sherwood Park Crusaders, a forward who cold play center or left wing," Moores recalled. "He was very hard-nosed and physical and very direct, very similar to his coaching style. He was a disciplined player with a role on our third line. In the national championship, he had a hat trick in the semifinal game and played very well throughout the tournament.

"In the final, we were up 2-0 in a one-game, sudden-death final. All of a sudden, Acadia comes back and ties it, so I call timeout. I could see that a lot of guys had their confidence shaken. You know when you look and see guys staring down at the ice? They don't want to be on the ice in that situation. Cory just kept looking at me, silently telling me he was going out there.

"That's the type of player he was and type of coach he is," Moores continued. "Wherever he has coached, he has taken a step forward. He wants to be in tough situations to challenge himself and his comfort zone. He is very much a career coach.

"Wherever he has coached, he has given 100 percent. He might have wanted to be at a higher level but he did a good job at every level. He's dedicated to learning and progressing.

"I didn't know that he wanted this career path when I coached him because it never came up in conversation but he obviously had the idea because he majored in recreation administration. A lot of guys who do that get into the teaching profession first, particularly phys ed. but he went right into coaching, looking at it as a full-time opportunity.

"His optimism and belief in self is impressive," Moores continued. "We always talked about challenging our comfort zones, to be better today than yesterday, as an ongoing process. Not many people have done what he's done in this short period of time. It's quite a feather in his cap and it's nice to see him get this opportunity."

News and Notes: Toronto Maple Leafs center Jason Blake has nine goals and 17 points in his last 11 games ... The Maple Leafs are 3-2-2 since the NHL All-Star break. ... Mark Bell has eight goals in his last 16 games with the AHL Toronto Marlies ... Bruins rookie right winger Byron Bitz scored his first NHL goal Saturday in Boston's 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers in Boston. The former Cornell player scored on his 10th NHL shot ... Boston's Michael Ryder will miss two to three weeks after the Senators' Anton Vermette high-sticked him in the face last Thursday in Boston's 4-3 shootout victory at Ottawa. Ryder was operated on Monday for multiple fractures of the frontal sinus ... The Bruins played two games against the Philadelphia Flyers last week, reuniting former Gatineau Olympiques linemates Claude Giroux and David Krejci ... The Bruins are trying to lure Malmo Redhawks center Carl Soderberg out of the Swedish Elite League to join their AHL Providence Bruins affiliate for the rest of the season. They'd like Soderberg to get familiar with North American hockey before September training camp ... The Montreal Canadiens held a players-only meeting Monday night to address their post-All-Star Game slump, so coach Guy Carbonneau canceled practice Tuesday and took the team bowling. Mathieu Dandenault declared himself team champion. ... The Canadiens had lost eight of 10 games after Monday's 6-2 loss at Calgary, the opener of a six-game road trip.

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