PRINCIPE: Captain Ference
Gene Principe looks at the return of Andrew Ference to face his former team Thursday and his tenure as Oilers captain so far
Andrew Ference's vehicle was making a lot of noise on the way to the rink Tuesday night. It happened every time he hit a bump. However, it wasn't his axle or carburator or his brakes. The noise was coming from inside the vehicle. What Ference was hearing were toy noises. That's because the Ference mobile was full of every kind of toy you could think of. The Oiler spending his money and asking other players to spend theirs to make some sick child's day at the Stollery Children's Hospital. This isn't a club idea but one that came from Ference.
He is a man of great conviction and determination. He thinks about more than himself. Whether it's other people, the environment or -- since July 5th -- the Edmonton Oilers; a team he grew up watching and then signing with on the first day of unrestricted free agency. It was a signing that made a statement. The statement was that Edmonton was willing to spend money to make their team better with players who had been there, done that. Andrew Ference would be 'that guy'. A one-time eighth-round pick who began his career with teammates named Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. He also, along the road to his other NHL stops, spent time in the minors. Yet he's also played in three Stanley Cup Finals. The 34 year old's resume is full of a wide variety experiences. From riding buses to riding high as a Cup champion.
Which brings us to Thursday night when the Boston Bruins come to Edmonton. It will be a night that should make Andrew Ference reflect on where he's been and where he's going. During his seven years with the Bruins he experienced the thrill of victory in 2011 and the agony of defeat in 2013. All the while, Ference developed his game into a hard-nosed, stay-at-home defenceman. He had the opportunity to line up alongside the biggest and best (Norris Trophy winner) Zdeno Chara. He was on a squad that, year in and year out, is considered a playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender.
Instead, when the opportunity to make a return seemed clouded, Ference jumped at the chance to come home to a familiar place with a new challenge. A letter-wearer in his hockey past, he was honoured with the greatest letter of all when he was named the 14th captain in Oilers history. With it came a responsibility to be the kind of player and person a team and community like Edmonton needs. Ference has embraced his role which looms larger than the one he had in Boston. It's not like he wasn't important with the Bruins it's just that he's more important to the Oilers.
I know it may look like an unfair trade going from Boston to Edmonton but I tend to look at it the other way. He has already won a Cup and now has a chance, in the future, to win another one. I understand Edmonton has to first get to the playoffs. It will be a feather in the helmet of Ference when they do. If they can win a Cup during his four-year contract length imagine what it would feel like to be the captain of that team. He also has to mentor the wave of the Oilers future. Make an impact on Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of those whose future continues to be in Edmonton.
If he never wins another Stanley Cup it will certainly matter to Ference but not to those kids at the Stollery Children's hospital. They're happy he chose to come home and make a difference on the ice and in the city.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.