WILMINGTON, Mass. — Sports fans like to think that the athletes they root for feel some sort of connection to the fan base and the city. Those athletes usually say the right things about how they play for the greatest fans in the world or some other throwaway line like that, but it’s often just lip service.
One athlete who meant and backed it up during his time in Boston was now Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference. The veteran D-man is back in Boston with the Oilers for the first time since signing with Edmonton in the offseason, and if he’s able to play Saturday against the Bruins (he’s dealing with a head injury), it should be an emotional environment.
Few pro athletes do as much for a city and its fan base like Ference did in parts of seven seasons with the Bruins. The Edmonton native quickly developed into a proud citizen of Boston. By the end of his tenure, he seemed like a lifelong Bostonian. Not only did Ference succeed on the ice – he helped deliver the club’s first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years – but his contributions off the ice were matched by few. The defenseman was an active participant in charity work and did great work with the city in promoting environmental-friendly practices.
Ference and his family were back in Boston ahead of Saturday’s game, which was evident by looking at his Twitter page. The Oilers’ schedule – with three days off between their Wednesday game and Saturday, allowed Ference to return to some of his favorite Boston spots – with help of the MBTA, of course – and visit with old friends.
“It’s fun to be back in a familiar town that I love,” Ference told the media after Edmonton’s practice on Friday in Cambridge.
Ference’s impact inside the Bruins dressing room was always noticeable as well. He was a vocal leader whose voice was respected, and his former teammates still rave about the type of player and person he was.
“He’s a friend of a lot of ours,” Bruins center Gregory Campbell said. “When you play with a guy like Andrew, a guy that you’ve won with, you’re gonna have a little bit closer relationship with players like that. He’s a character guy, a great guy and a lot of guys still keep in touch with him.”
His leadership was on display in many ways during his time with Boston. Often times it was through what he said in the locker room. Other times, it was his calming demeanor on the ice and in games that rubbed off on teammates. And then there were times like in the playoffs when his creativity helped bring the team together as evidenced by his playoff player of the game awards.
“The thing about Andrew is that he cares,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He cares about everything, not just the game. At times he was a calming figure for some of the players that would panic. He’s a guy who thinks a lot. He was always thinking outside the box and he was one of the guys that comes in the playoffs with some new ideas with what to do for themselves at teammates after the game. You saw the jacket, you saw some other things from the past years. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
“He just didn’t put on his skates at the rink and go home and forget about the team,” B’s center Chris Kelly added. “He was always thinking about what would be best for our team.”
Ference’s reputation as a good teammate and strong leader isn’t a secret known only in Boston and in the Bruins dressing room, though. It’s known across the league, and that’s a big reason why he was named captain shortly after signing with Edmonton before even taking the ice with his new team.
“You see Andrew go to Edmonton, and he’s the captain right away, I just think that speaks volume about the reputation he has not only with us but throughout the league,” Kelly said. “It’s great to see a guy like that be recognized with the type of leadership he brings. The wisdom, he’s been through a lot. We were lucky to have him for so long.”
The Bruins weren’t the only ones who were lucky to have Ference for so long, though. The city was also left a better place after Ference left, and that’s why he’ll have one impressive homecoming on Saturday afternoon.