Winning Stanley Cup with Boston has exceeded Andrew Ference's expectations
In 1998, he was one of the stalwarts in the Portland Winterhawks' drive to the Memorial Cup, symbolic of North American major junior hockey supremacy.
Thirteen years later, Andrew Ference is a champion again on an entirely different level.
Last Saturday, the former Hawks defenseman was riding atop one of the city of Boston's famous 'duck boats' in a parade commemorating the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship.
An estimated 1 million people - more than were on hand for the parade after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 - lined the streets to celebrate the Bruins' first Stanley Cup crown since 1972.
'It blew our minds,' says Ference, 32, a regular defenseman for the Bruins. 'There were people everywhere you looked. And they weren't just there to watch; they were there to yell and cheer and scream their heads off.
'There was Bruin stuff everywhere. And it wasn't just Bostonians. The whole region came down for the party.'
A day earlier - a day after the Bruins wrapped up the title with a Game 7 victory at Vancouver - Ference had taken the Cup for a walk in his 2-year-old daughter's stroller.
The players and their families had convened at the home of defenseman Zdeno Chara, a few blocks from Ference's home in the heart of Boston - a 10-minute walk from TD Garden, home of the Bruins.
'We were bringing in friends from the neighborhood, taking pictures with the Cup,' Ference says. 'Helicopters were circling overhead, (providing) live TV news coverage. It was bananas.'
The congregation started a walk to a waterfront bar and restaurant, Tia's, five or six blocks away.
'The Cup was just too heavy to carry, so I said, 'I'll bring my kid's stroller over,' ' Ference says. 'I put the Cup in it and away we went. We got some bicycle cops to give us a corridor.
'Buildings were emptying out along the way, and everybody was grabbing a peek at it. It was really neat. We won it for ourselves, but we knew how excited people in the city were. We wanted to share it and let people touch it.'
Ference had been living for the moment since his childhood in Edmonton, Alberta.
'It's one of those things you dream about your whole life, run it through your head what it would be like,' he says. 'And even after that buildup, it exceeds your expectations.
'Especially to do it in a city like Boston, where people are just over the roof. The whole city is virtually as excited as the players are.'
Ference had been in the situation once before, with Calgary in 2004. The Flames lost a Game 7 to Tampa Bay for the Cup.
'The hardest thing I had to do in my career was go into that dressing room after that game and break down and be so upset,' he says. 'You invest so much in your career. To get so close to reach the pinnacle and not get it was absolutely awful.
'It stays fresh in your mind even after all those years. So I'll be able to sleep a little bit easier now. I don't have to worry any more about the 'what ifs.' '
In a nationally televised interview moments after Game 7 at Vancouver, Ference went out of his way to pay tribute to his head coach in Portland, Brent Peterson.
'There's not a chance I'd be here without him,' Ference said.
After the 1997-98 season, Peterson left Portland for a job as associate head coach of the NHL Nashville Predators. Peterson has been there since. A few years ago, though, Peterson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In declining health, Peterson recently was reassigned as the club's hockey operations adviser.
Peterson didn't hear the interview but says he received about 20 calls and text messages during the next few hours from friends about Ference's gesture.
'It made me cry,' Peterson says.
'Your mind is going 100 mph in a situation like that, but I'm glad I remembered to say something about Pete,' Ference says. 'I've thought about him a lot over the last few years. He has had his battles (with health) in Nashville. Every time I see him, we always have a great catch-up.
'I've always said I owe so much to him. He taught me so much in Portland - how to be a player, how to be a professional, how to be a man.'
It was partially through Peterson's recommendations that Pittsburgh took a chance on the undersized Ference, taking him in the eighth round of the draft. Not a lot of players drafted that late make an NHL roster.
'It's a bigger hill to climb, for sure,' Ference says. 'But I read a newspaper article that went through all the guys playing defense on both teams in the (Stanley Cup) finals. There wasn't a single high draft pick amongst us. It's about what you do after the draft and how you build yourself up as a player.'
Ference, 5-10 and 190, played four years with Hawks, including 1997-98 season with Memorial Cup champions. Along with such players as Marian Hossa and Brenden Morrow, he was a leader on one of the best teams in franchise history.
'Andy was on the smaller side, but he was a good player by age 16,' Peterson says. 'He always had good skill level, but showed great grit and determination. He came to play every night, and he led by example.'
Ference first played for the Hawks at the tender age of 15.
'Andy stepped in for a handful of games with us that year,' says Calgary Hitmen coach Mike Williamson, then an assistant to Peterson in Portland. 'From the first game, he played such a physical, in-your-face style. He got into a fight with one of Tri-City's toughest players and held his own. It opened our eyes.'
Ference got his degree at Sunset High while in Portland.
'He was one of the top scholastic players in the league,' Williamson says. 'His teachers raved about him. He was so mature on and off the ice. He did everything with a purpose.
'Andy was so easy to coach. He was like a sponge, but you didn't have to spend much time with him. If there were too many of those guys, you'd be out of a job. They wouldn't need a coach.'
Plenty of ice time
Ference looks back on his years with the Hawks with fondness.
'The whole experience of Portland was amazing,' he says. 'I got to live in one of the best cities in America. It was a neat place to kind of grow up.
'School and my friends were great, we made camping trips toward the coast … all those things were a bonus on top of being able to play for a good team, a good franchise while winning that Memorial Cup. To a young kid, that's an experience of a lifetime - similar to being a Stanley Cup champion.'
Ference beat the odds, making the Pittsburgh roster as a rookie.
'I went into training camp knowing I had to do something to stand out,' he says. 'For me, that was fitness. I played hard. I got in a fight with one of the first-rounders in an exhibition game. I was doing anything I could to stick out from the other players who were there.
'You do everything you can, but there is a lot of luck involved, as well. You have to have a coach or general manager who likes what he sees. If I get drafted by another team, there's a good chance I never play an NHL game.'
Ference played his first 3 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh alongside such greats as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. His next three seasons were with Calgary, led by Jarome Iginla. Between the three, they played in 25 All-Star games.
'It was a treat to play with so many good players, especially early in my career,' Ference says. 'I learned a lot of lessons through my career from the captains of the teams, guys like Mario and Jarome. Pretty amazing captains and guys who teach you what a good leader is and the right way to approach the game.'
Ference saw plentiful ice time in this year's finals against Vancouver, scoring two goals, including the knockout goal in Game 6, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-2 win.
'And he was fabulous on the penalty kill, especially in some 5-on-3 situations (the Bruins) faced,' Peterson says. 'He showed his heart and character.'
Now a dozen years into his NHL career, Ference says dedication to his craft is the key to his longevity.
'A lot of it comes from the offseason preparation - how you treat your body, how you eat, how you sleep, maintaining health,' he says. 'Everything you can control, you max out on. I try to get the best fitness programs. I use muscle recovery machines after every game. All those little things add up.
'On the ice, it's about trying to work harder than the next guy. You need that constant fear that somebody's out there trying a little harder. You always have that in the back of your brain. It helps you to push yourself. You have to love the game, and I've every second of it. It's been an honor.'
Williamson says about once a year he has his players listen to a tape of a radio interview Ference did with ex-Winterhawks broadcaster Dean Vrooman early in his NHL career. Vrooman asked if Ference had any advice for young players with NHL aspirations.
'Andy talked about making sure you found a role and were able to adapt,' Williamson says. 'He saw a lot of young players come to training camp expecting to play the same starring role they had as a junior, and they weren't able to adapt.
'Andy had put numbers up in the juniors, but he knew in the NHL his value was as a solid two-way player, and being there consistently every night. At 21, 22 years old, Andy had learned that already.'
Now Ference is a veteran, with 4 1/2 years in Boston. He and wife Krista have two daughters, Ava, 6, and Stella, 2. Andrew is a fixture in the Boston community. He says he doesn't see retirement coming soon.
'I'll go when they kick me out,' he says. 'I want to keep playing. I've had injuries over the years, but nothing that was too serious. As long as the health stays, I'd love to play another five or six years.'
Ference says he followed the Hawks on their run to the Western Hockey League finals this season.
'I was hoping they'd make the Memorial Cup,' he says. 'There are a couple of (WHL grads) on our team. We get updates. We all want our old team to do well.'