For seven years, Oilers captain Andrew Ference's home away from home was Boston, Massachusetts. Of course, he always visited his true home in Oil Country during the off-season to catch up with family and friends, but during his tenure patrolling the blueline for the Bruins, Ference was ensconced in Beantown.
He endeared himself to the Bruins fan base, not only for his gritty, heart-filled play on the ice, but for his efforts away from the rink as well. Ference was a frequent visitor of Boston's children's hospitals, a champion for green initiatives throughout the New England metropolis, and one of the trailblazers of the November Project public exercise movement.
Ference has brought that community-minded attitude with him back to his hometown, as he continues his career donning the 'C' for the team he grew up rooting for as a child. The first stop on the current four-game Oilers road trip is no doubt a special one for the 34-year-old, as he makes his first visit to Boston after signing with Edmonton as a free agent last summer.
"My family obviously has a lot of roots here," Ference said following Oilers practice at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge on Friday. "I'm excited. It's just fun to be back around familiar people and a familiar town that I really love."
Ference's two daughters grew up in Boston and they, along with his wife, are in town for the game as well. The girls went to visit their former school on Friday and had a chance to catch up with some old classmates. Andrew was able to visit with friends and family on Thursday, including some notable Bostonians.
One of the good friends he made during his time with the Bruins and had a chance reconnect with last night is Josh "Scruffy" Wallace, a native of Calgary who now plays the bagpipes for iconic Boston Celtic punk group Dropkick Murphys.
"I'm a fan of their band, and he's a huge hockey fan, so our paths crossed during my time here," Ference said. "They've obviously gotten swept up in all the success of the local sports teams. They're big supporters of the Bruins and Red Sox, especially. They're great guys, and Scruffy's a bagpipe player from Canada, so it's hard not to love him."
Ference is also friends with some of Boston's major political figures, including former Mayor Thomas Menino and new Mayor Marty Walsh. He got a chance to visit with Walsh on Thursday night as well thanks to another friendship with the mayor's campaign manager Stephan Passacantilli.
Ference estimates there will be more than 100 family members and friends in attendance when the Oilers and Bruins square off for their Saturday matinee game. Thousands more are sure to give him a warm welcome back to the TD Garden, as the rearguard created many lifelong fans, who are now Oilers supporters as well.
"The feeling is mutual, and that's the cool thing about it," Ference said. "I'm really lucky. The people here care so much about their sports, and when they see athletes embrace the city and do more outside their little bubble of sports, I think they're really appreciative of that. We made a lot of close friends. It's more about just coming to the city and playing a game. It's about being part of the community and embracing the place you call home."
And fortunately for Andrew, the concussion symptoms that forced him to miss the last three games have subsided, so he's been medically cleared to return to the lineup, just in time for the Beantown reunion.