( Photo Credit: Courtesy of NHLPA.com )

By: Tom Egan | Follow Me @eganthoughts

Times are uncertain, to say the least, for the Boston Bruins. The team, as it stands now, isn’t built to be a strong contender for the cup, and whether to add pieces or tear the whole thing down and rebuild is anyone’s guess. With that in mind, I wanted this week’s obscure Bruin of the week to be someone that makes readers remember better days. Without further adieu, let’s jump into it with former B’s defenseman, Andrew Ference.

The Alberta native was taken by Pittsburgh with the 208th overall pick in the 1997 entry draft. He was such an unheralded prospect that he was unranked by Central Scouting going into the draft. This put a chip on his shoulder that wouldn’t go away throughout the entirety of his career. He even wrote a letter to every team in the league, guaranteeing he would make it to the league and have an impact.

Ference was brought along slowly by Pittsburgh. After being drafted, he played two more seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, had a brief stint in the International Hockey League with the Kansas City Blades, and was able to help lead Team Canada to the silver medal in the 1999 World Junior Championships. That same year is when he made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh. Andrew would split time between Pittsburgh and AAA Scranton before becoming a full-time NHL player in the 2001-02 season. He became a stalwart “stay at home defenseman” for a bad Pittsburgh team until being traded to Calgary in the middle of the 2002-03 season.

For the next three and a half seasons, he became a staple of the Calgary blue line. He was a major part of the Flames’ 2003-04 team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before ultimately losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the middle of the 2006-07 season, Ference and teammate Chuck Kobasew were traded to Bruins for Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. It was a move that ended up paying off very well for the Black and Gold…

When he arrived in the hub, Andrew Ference was coming into a team in transition. The Bruins had not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season and hadn’t won a round since the 1998-99 season. They were a year removed from trading franchise cornerstone Joe Thornton to San Jose and were in the midst of a full rebuild. They needed toughness, consistency, and stability, and for the next seven years, Andrew Ference provided all three in spades.

Like most Bruins fans, my fondest memories of Andrew Ference come from the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Run. Everyone remembers his goal in game four of the first-round series vs. Montreal, where he proceeds to show the Bell Centre faithful that they’re number one in his heart.

It’s fun to laugh at (especially the CBC commentators acting like he mooned the pope), but it can’t be overstated how big this goal actually was. Let’s explore the context. Both of the previous two playoff runs ended in game seven of the second round. Both runs ended on home ice vs. lower-seeded teams. The previous year saw the team choke away a 3-0 series lead to boot. At the time of the goal, the team was down 2-1 in the series to their most bitter rival. They were down 3-1 in the game at the time of the goal. Of course, they went on to win the game in overtime and the series in seven games.

If Ference doesn’t score there, they’re down 3-1 in the series, Claude Julien is updating his resume on the flight back to Boston, and the team is probably blown up in the offseason. Of the gesture, Ference said his “glove was stuck” in that position (sure it was), and he didn’t mean to flip the bird. It could be argued that the goal was a turning point in the series. It showed that the Bruins weren’t scared of the moment or defined by their recent history of coming up short. To me, and I’m sure to Ference as well, that’s worth far more than the $2,500.00 fine that the gesture earned him.

As everyone knows, the magic of the Bruins 2010-11 playoff run didn’t end there as they went all the way to their first title since 1972. Andrew Ference was a much bigger part of that than you may remember. In addition to having a strong defensive presence, he scored a big goal in the series.

Much like the Montreal goal, this goal needs to be put into context. The Bruins are down 2-0 in the series to a team that was head and shoulders above everyone else in the league that season. They just saw their playoff hero Nathan Horton knocked out of the series by a headshot. They were unable to cash in at all on the ensuing five-minute power play. The goal opened the floodgates, and the Bruins went on to win game 3 8-1 and the series in seven games. Ference put the team ahead in a must-win game. The Bruins Stanley Cup drought would be about to enter its sixth decade if it wasn’t For Andrew Ference.

Ference continued his stable presence on the Bruins’ blue line for two more seasons. He was one of the players who inherited Mark Recchi’s “A” upon Recchi’s retirement following the cup win. After the Stanley Cup Finals loss to Chicago in 2013, Ference became expendable as the Bruins were facing a salary-cap crunch and undergoing a youth movement within the defensive corps. He signed with Edmonton on a four-year 13 million dollar deal. Edmonton is a young team and in need of leadership, gave Ference the captaincy upon his signing.

While his time in Edmonton was unspectacular, he remained a consummate professional until the end. He played his best for a rebuilding team. Still, Father Time is undefeated, and a hip injury all but ended his career, but not before helping megastars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl learn to be professionals. Ference was so much of a standup guy he willingly relinquished his captaincy once it became apparent his presence on the ice was tenuous at best. He was the definition of a “team player.”

As remarkable as Andrew Ference’s contributions on the ice are, his contributions off the ice are arguably even more remarkable. He’s an outspoken environmentalist, and even to this day, he helps create programs to help NHL players and teams become carbon neutral. While with the Bruins, he helped start “the November Project,” which is free and open to the public exercise group. While in Edmonton, he spearheaded a toy drive to the local children’s hospital. For these projects and many others, he was the 2014 recipient of the NHL’s 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the league’s best humanitarian.

Andrew Ference’s story is one we can all admire and aspire to be. He was a true underdog that fought for everything he ended up getting. He was an admirable leader and a fierce teammate. He delivered when he was needed most. Once he had achieved everything he had hoped and worked for, he decided to give back as much as he could and to dedicate his money, time, and energy into making his community a better place. For a player, a leader, and a humanitarian like Andrew Ference, there’s not much to say besides thank you.