With 120 playoff games, including 20 in the Stanley Cup Finals, Andrew Ference has the right resume to don the captain letter upon his chest for the Edmonton Oilers. That, among many other reasons including the character of the individual, is why Head Coach Dallas Eakins made that leap of faith, placing Ference into the most important position in the dressing room.
"He's everything you look for," said Eakins. "You start rattling off words like compete, honest and commitment, a guy who can communicate. Everything you talk about as a leader, that's what this young man is. The biggest thing for me is his ability, that I know he can do, is unite an organization. He's the most important person in this organization. It's not (General Manager Craig MacTavish) and it's not me. it's your captain."
The 34-year-old defenceman became the 14th captain in Oilers franchise history this morning. He has spent time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames and Boston where he helped the Bruins win a championship in 2011.
"It's an exciting time for the Oilers," said forward Jordan Eberle. "He's a guy that has that playoff experience, has won cups and has that respect level in the dressing room and his resume goes on. It's a good thing to have a veteran guy leading us."
Ference seemed humble as he took the stand for the first time since the announcement. As an Edmonton native, this is beyond a childhood dream to not only play for the Oilers but to captain them. It became even more surreal as he reflected on the careers of former friends and teammates, knowing that not all paths lead to this success.
"To know that I'm able to come back to my hometown and be so extremely proud to pull on the jersey, letter or not, I know how fortunate I am to have that kind of path in a career like this," said Ference. "It really is an ultimate privilege and honour to just have that jersey on in the first place."
For Ference, he begins building his legacy as a captain with forming an identity for the dressing room. Something he says the Oilers have lacked recently.
"I think this is a team that has, without a doubt, talent, has skill and has a lot of pieces that other teams don't and that other teams wish they had. The one thing I think (the team) has struggled with the last few years is having a strong identity. It's very easy to talk about what you want to be and how you want to change and what you'd like other teams to think of you. That's talking about what your identity is but actually doing it night in and night out, living it and letting your actions speak loud, that's hard. It takes a lot of work and that's why there are so few teams that you can look at and right away, no matter who you ask in hockey, the team has an identity and they represent something.
"I think that's goal number one here is to establish that identity and obviously if you look at me as a player and a person, I think that the Edmonton Oilers identity is not going to be a group of guys who want to stick handle through the team, razzle dazzle and hope they win 8-0 every night. I think that it's going to be an identity that is based around the full commitment to putting your team first and a full commitment to showing how proud you are and what a privilege it is to be in this league and to play in a city that cares as much as this one does."
That's why he was chosen. Ference has the knowledge of what it takes to build and deliver upon an identity in the National Hockey League. It is something that can unify a locker room and uniting a dressing room is what his head coach asks of him to do while the captain's 'C' is on his chest.
"He's the one who has to unite your organization and unite your players because they're all in there trying to get to a certain place," said Eakins. "They all have a common goal. He has 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 them."
The Oilers story is one of great captains who left their mark on a franchise with a deep tradition of winning. Edmonton is in the midst of a seven-year playoff drought and they are hoping that Ference will be the one to lead them back to that tradition. If he does, he'll do so with character, integrity and with the respect of his teammates.
"I think it's great," said Taylor Hall. "He's had a lot of experience winning and that's important for our group. We don't really have a lot of that especially with the young guys here.He's really taken charge off the ice and on the ice. He's a great player and a good guy. I think it's the right move for us."