Edmonton native Andrew Ference grew up watching "Hockey Night in Canada." He's one of the few who eventually lived his dream of playing in the NHL, even reaching a career apex by winning the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011.
These days Ference is the NHL director of social impact, growth and fan development committed to the implantation of the NHL Declaration of Principles that in part decrees how and why the game is open to everyone regardless of race, color, gender or sexual orientation. His travels take him to Swift Current, Saskatchewan this weekend for the 19th annual "Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada," when hockey takes center stage with Sportsnet's 12 ½-hour national broadcast of four games featuring all seven Canada-based NHL teams on Saturday.
"I think it's pretty amazing," Ference said. "You get the marquee games when you're on the show you watched growing up as a kid. But this concept of the entire day devoted to it, there's something special about it."
Sportsnet will go live across Canada from Riverdene Park at 1 p.m. ET. In the first of a quadrupleheader, the Winnipeg Jets face the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre (2 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS, NHL.TV). Two more games will then air simultaneously: The San Jose Sharks playing the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place (7 p.m. ET; SN, SN360, NBCSCA, NHL.TV) and the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; CBC, SN1, TVAS, NHL.TV). The day concludes with the Calgary Flames visiting the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, SN360, SN1, CITY, NHL.TV).
Ference will host the NHL Declaration of Principles Community Breakfast in Swift Current on Friday. He will lead a panel discussion with local community leaders and hockey personalities to profile the values of the DOP.
Ference's objective will be establishing that the DOP isn't just an initiative or program the NHL is trying to do. It's the guiding light, culture, one the League wants to foster and establish standards by using information from communities that discuss the pros and challenges surrounding the game.
"I think we're still finding our way," Ference said. "It's a matter of making sure that we're finding that good balance of talking and listening and including people in the conversation."
"The game is more than just us playing it at the NHL level. There's all the different leagues, minor hockey, parents, employees of the rinks and rink operators. The world of hockey is so big, and these principles really relate to all of us in different ways. Different people are seeing the good and bad sides of hockey culture in their own lives. It's important for us to listen to the positives and negatives in those communities, and really work toward either enhancing the good or trying to challenge and influence to make the bad stuff a little bit better."
Adding to the magnitude of the DOP breakfast will be the presence of the Stanley Cup, which Ference says possesses a magical power.
"It's got this aura," Ference said. "It's a representation of dreams and aspirations and I think people see the raw emotion from players who actually win it. It's different than from a lot of sports. The raw emotion of touching that trophy, it's not the same in any other sport, I don't think. It represents different things to different people, but everybody can see the work that goes into it and the dreams that are fulfilled when somebody wins it."
The event is a complement to Kraft Hockeyville Canada, with each proving that hockey is an immense part of the community. The hope is the education of the DOP lasts long after the Sportsnet crew leaves town.
"I think it's a great thing to get outside of the NHL markets, the bigger cities, and into some of the smaller municipalities throughout Canada," Ference said. "The game just takes on such a big meaning for so many people within the community."