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New Oilers captain Ference accepts 'ultimate honor'

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON — Growing up next door to former Edmonton Oilers forward Petr Klima, Andrew Ference dreamed of one day playing for his hometown team.

Yet that dream never included being named captain of the Oilers.

"It's not something that I could have accurately guessed would of happen for myself," Ference said, shortly after being named the 14th captain in franchise history on Sunday. "It's been an incredible ride. Every year that I got closer to making it, and then finally making it to the NHL, the privilege of being in this League become more and more apparent.

"To be able to come back to my hometown and put on the Oilers jersey, letter or not, I know how fortunate I am. It's an ultimate honor."

Ference, 34, signed with the Oilers as a free agent this summer after spending the previous seven seasons with the Boston Bruins. He has a Stanley Cup ring and three Cup Final appearances on his resume, dating back to his days with the Calgary Flames.

Ference was chosen as captain by first-year coach Dallas Eakins, who made the announcement internally at owner Daryl Katz's house during a team function Saturday night. Eakins tweeted the news early the following morning. The Oilers have yet to name alternates, but are expected to rotate the role throughout the season.

"We had a great gathering [Saturday] night, all of our team, our players, coaches, managers and our spouses were there," Eakins said. "I thought it was a perfect setting at the Katz house with our big, huge family there to announce it.

"The other thing that was great, is that we had three former captains in-house, (Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe, Kelly Buchberger) and they were able to pass that captaincy on to Andrew. It was the best setting. It was intimate and it was perfect."

Heading into his 13th NHL season, Ference was chosen over other notable candidates, such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner to take over the role vacated by Shawn Horcoff, who was traded to the Dallas Stars this summer.

"Andrew is everything you look for in a captain," Eakins said. "You start rattling off words like, compete, honest, commitment, a guy that can communicate. Everything you talk about a leader, that's what this young man is. The biggest thing for me, is his ability to unite this organization. He's the most important person in this organization.

"It's not Craig [MacTavish] and it's not me, it's your captain. He's the one that has to unite your organization and unite your players. They're all in there trying to get to a certain place, they all have a common goal, he's got to find a way to include them all, push them in the right direction, inspire them, hold them accountable. He's got a lot of different jobs and he's the right guy for it."

Ference takes over a dressing room he was familiar with growing up in Sherwood Park, Alberta, an Edmonton suburb.

As a kid, he would shovel Klima's sidewalks in the winter and was rewarded by getting an opportunity to come to the arena with the veteran forward.

"My first-ever exposure to an NHL dressing room was with Petr," Ference said. "Seeing [Mark] Messier tell dirty jokes and bugging guys for sticks and just seeing the camaraderie in the room and how guys rib each other and just the way that those guys carry themselves, that was quite the experience for a young guy.

"That was my first glimpse of what the NHL is all about. It's neat to have that visual as a young guy and be able to live it out later on in my life."

Originally selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the eighth round (No. 208) in the 1997 NHL Draft, Ference was traded to the Flames, where he played in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Tampa Bay Lighting in seven games.

He went on to lift the Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and was back in the final last season, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

In total, Ference has played in 120 Stanley Cup Playoff games, 20 of which have come in the Final. The Oilers are hoping he can lead the club back into the postseason; Edmonton hasn't made the playoffs since advancing to Game 7 of the Final in 2006.

"This is a team that without a doubt has talent and has skill and have a lot of pieces that other teams wish they had," Ference said. "But the one thing that I think it's struggled with the last few years is having a strong identity.

"I think that's the first goal, is to establish that identity. I think our identity is going to be based on a full commitment on putting your team first and knowing how proud you are to be in this league and play in a city that cares as much as this one does."

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