- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference will return to the lineup Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes after serving a three-game suspension for his dangerous hit on the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh on Jan. 21.
When the NHL disciplined Ference, he and the Bruins were not happy with the decision. He's been known as a clean player, one who stands up for his teammates and one who has been outspoken on the league's attempt to protect players from dangerous hits and potential career-ending injuries.
If Ference is involved in another incident in the future and then has to meet with the league's Brendan Shanahan, Ference will now be considered a repeat offender. He doesn't believe, however, this incident has tarnished his reputation around the league.
"I don't have to register in my neighborhood, so I still think it's all right," Ference said.
After the Bruins conducted practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday morning, Ference talked about the play that resulted in his suspension. He reiterated his stance, saying there was no intent to injure and that type of play occurs often during games.
"There's not a whole lot of options," Ference said. "The thing about that play, and I kind of, just for my own amusement, watch the games and that type of play happens a lot in the course of the game. It usually doesn't result in a guy falling, it's usually at slower speed, but that situation happens all the time. Guys can fall awkwardly, it's a common thing, but it doesn't happen often because guys have good balance. Next time I'll get the puck and score, I guess."
The Bruins and the Rangers were tied 2-2 on Jan. 21 at TD Garden when Ference and McDonagh were racing for the puck as it trickled into the corner behind New York's net. Both were traveling at high speed, with McDonagh in the lead. Ference made contact with McDonagh about five feet from the end boards, sending the Rangers' defenseman slamming into the wall.
Ference was assessed a five-minute major for charging and received a game misconduct. The Rangers capitalized on the power play and scored the game-winning goal with 3.6 seconds remaining in OT for a 3-2 win.
During his league-mandated hiatus, Ference forfeited $36,486.48 in salary. Ference doesn't seem to think he'll be rusty once the puck drops on Thursday night. Overall, he has four goals and 16 assists for 20 points in 48 games this season, while posting a plus-15 rating.
Even though it was only a three-game suspension, it's been almost two weeks since Ference has seen game action, partly because of the five-day break for All-Star weekend.
"He's going to be fine. He's always been in great shape, so he's going to come back and play his game," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "A guy like that, who has been around the league for a long time, those kinds of things don't rattle him."
Given Ference's reputation as a clean player, Julien said there was no reason for him to talk to the 32-year-old defenseman about that incident because it was part of the game.
"There's no issue there," Julien said. "That page has been turned. Sometimes things happen in the game, it doesn't mean it's dirty. It's a fast-paced game and sometimes you don't have time to react properly. It's one of those situations where you try to better yourself at, but I don't think it's something you dwell on. He's certainly a pretty respectful player and he's not doing that to injure anybody."
While Ference was watching from press level, Steven Kampfer, who has been a healthy scratch for the majority of the season, has played the last three games with limited minutes. Kampfer has only played a total of 10 games this season.
"That's been probably one of our strongest points on this club, is when guys step in," explained Ference. "It's a very difficult position to practice for that long and keep yourself ready. It's a difficult job."
With the news that Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid (lower-body injury) is questionable for Thursday's game against the Hurricanes, Ference's return to the lineup is crucial.
"Anybody coming back is going to be a welcome addition right now," Julien said. "He's an experienced player who has had a really good year for us. He's been as steady as we could have ever asked for from a defenseman, so we're going to be happy to have him back, especially in the situation that McQuaid is in right now."
During his absence, the Bruins went 2-1-0 but it was clear the team missed one of its top defensemen, who normally plays between 17 and 20 minutes per game.
"It's big," said fellow Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg of Ference's return. "He's such a consistent player and he brings a veteran presence back there. He definitely helps us calm things down. (Kampfer) has played great, but it's tough to play limited minutes and show what you can do. He did well, but to have Andrew back is definitely a plus. We're all happy to have him back."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
1dDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com