He came, he saw, he went, and he came back.
For former Bruin and current Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference, it was a return that he could only dream of.
“It’s about as fairy tale as it gets in the sports world as far as leaving a city and knowing that you can come back in open arms,” Ference said to reporters prior to Saturday’s matinee at TD Garden.
Past Bruins who left their mark didn’t have the same welcome back as Ference. Phil Kessel’s return to The Hub of Hockey resounding in loud boos that still resonates to this day every time he touches the puck. Tyler Seguin’s debut in a Stars sweater in Boston also resounded in boos. (Ironic now because the “Thank You Kessel” chants are now passe, isn’t it?) Michael Ryder, Rich Peverley and even Tim Thomas didn’t have the same welcome back from the Black and Gold community as Ference.
The difference between Ference and the other former B’s named on that list? Both he and Peter Chiarelli knew the two had to part ways. With a lower salary cap in the months after the lockout, the Bruins GM was committed to keeping the team’s younger defensive core intact for the 2013-14 season and beyond.
Even with the plethora of injuries to the Bruins’ blue-line, guys like Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller have filled in admirably in 2013-14. But there’s also no denying that Ference left his mark during his tenure in Boston and helped build the Black and Gold into one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League.
“When I was told I wasn’t coming back here, it was under the best terms with Peter and the team,” Ference recalled. “They were happy with what I did and I was happy with what they did, which is great.”
“I was fortunate to leave under those kind of circumstances,” Ference added. “I’ve seen a lot of guys over the course of their careers that get traded at the drop of a hat and are gone the next day. They don’t get a chance to have a long, drawn out goodbye like I did.”
His toughness, grit and ability to chip in offensively when needed was what Ference displayed when donning the Spoked B. But his biggest impact in the city of Boston happened off the ice.
When the team went out to support local charities for the Boston Bruins Foundation, Andrew Ference was there. When the Movember Project needed a spokesperson to get the ball rolling, Andrew Ference was there. When the late Sam Berns looked up to the Boston Bruins for inspirations, Andrew Ference, and the rest of the team, were there.
And when the Bruins were looking to bond together as a unit, at home, or on the road, Andrew Ference was there.
“He was big for us on the ice, but off the ice he was one of our glue guys the last few years,” Shawn Thornton said about Ference. “I think he really helped bring this team together."
“It just shows how much time and effort Fer [put] into making us become a team,” added Chris Kelly, who came over from the Ottawa Senators three years ago this February. “The playoffs is such a special time, and to have something like that to bring someone together was pretty neat, and it showed what kind of guy he was that he didn’t just put on his skates at the rink and go home and forget about hockey. He was always thinking about what was best for our team.”
Even on his way out, Ference was still thinking about improving the Black and Gold.
Before he negotiated his deal with Edmonton, Ference talked with Jarome Iginla, who was fresh off choosing the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline. Ference - among with another ex-Flame Chuck Kobasew and former fellow Olympian Mark Recchi - sold his former teammate in Calgary enough where he signed a one-year deal with the Black and Gold just 28 days after they swept the Pens from the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I talked to Andy Ference...amongst many others about the city, the team and the group of players around here. I love the way they play,” Iginla said during his introductory conference call with the media. “I know there’s going to be questions and stuff as far as choices and things like that, but they were always a team that if I were to move [from Calgary] that I wanted to play for.”
It all came full circle on Saturday for Ference.
He is now back in his hometown where he will likely spend the rest of his playing career. But the memories in Boston, including today’s video tribute during the first TV timeout at the TD Garden, still remain after his visit this weekend.
He may be donning a different sweater, but Andrew Ference, who might one day call this city home again, left his legacy in the latest boom period in The Hub of Hockey. And that will always be remembered.
“Every time I’m in this city its going to be something special. My family grew up here and we could call this place home again. Its a special city” Ference said after he witnessed a 4-0 win from his former team on Saturday. “Tonight, the game wasn’t so fun, but other than that it was nothing but a good experience here.”
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