Monday, January 7, 2008 Updated: January 8, 9:37 AM ET
Ference likes to talk about Africa, not the Crosby fight -- again
By David Amber Special to ESPN.com
When he's not busy moving hulking forwards from in front of the net, Andrew Ference is busy trying to change the world. The Bruins defenseman wears a helmet on the ice and many hats off it: political activist, environmental crusader and possibly future NHL commissioner.
In this edition of Facing Off, Ference tells us what it's like to drop the gloves with Sid the Kid, how the Bruins can win back Beantown and how 10 days in Africa changed his life forever.
Question from David Amber: You were drafted 208th overall back in 1997 and here you are in your eighth NHL season. Only 17 guys from your draft year have played more NHL games than you, how do you explain that? Answer from Andrew Ference: It was kind of that day and age when I think every defenseman had to be over 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 to have a shot in this league. Coming out of junior you can have great numbers, but if you didn't have the size, you weren't going high, no matter what. The fact that I have played a lot of games, I guess I was fortunate that Pittsburgh gave me a chance. I never believed you had to be 6-foot-2 to play in this league.
Q: What is the biggest challenge playing defense in the NHL at 5-10, 190 pounds?
A: I didn't really see any of it as a challenge because I've never been bigger [laughs]. I've never had the luxury of knowing what it is like to play when you're a big guy. I guess the challenge is just leverage in the corners and in front of the net. I can't rely on sheer brute force, I have to be a little creative, that's just the way I've always had to play.
Q: You haven't scored this season. When you get that first goal, do you have a special celebration planned? A: No way. I've never been a scorer, not even in minor hockey. I like the assists. Don't get me wrong, I like scoring goals too, but I don't go overboard if I do score because it's usually just a shot from the point that somehow finds its way into the net. So maybe I'll give a little fist pump or something like that [laughs].
Q: Which player one-on-one gives you the most trouble? A:Sidney Crosby is tough. Obviously, he gives a lot of people trouble. Out of the corner, one guy that I think will make you look foolish is Alexei Kovalev. He can make you look the stupidest.
Q: You got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals with Calgary a few years ago. What do you remember most about that game? A: Game 7 was not even as memorable as Game 6. We had a chance to wrap it up at home and I remember going into that game feeling like this could be the dream coming true of having a chance to win the Cup, at home, in front of your fans, and that was a lot of nerves. I hardly slept at all before Game 6. Going into Game 7 was almost a mission, "Just get it done," because we didn't get it done in Game 6. It was a horrible feeling losing that game. I hate thinking about what happened. It makes me sick.
Q: How much do you think about that series and how close you came to winning a Stanley Cup? A: It hangs around forever. Each time I see a team raise the Cup, I think about what happened. Whenever I run into somebody in Calgary, it gets brought up. It gets discussed more than I would like. It's a funny thing, because that run to the Cup was like the best feeling in the world and then the worst feeling in the world at the same time.
Q: What do you make of the Lightning? They win the Cup a few years ago and now they are dead last in the NHL. A: When they won they were playing a risky style, very run-and-gun, but they had the players to do it and they had strong goaltending. I think the biggest thing is now maybe their goaltending isn't so strong and they may have lost some guys to the salary-cap situation. I think the biggest thing between teams being good or not, is goaltending. That makes all the difference in the world, regular season or playoffs.
Q: In junior hockey you were named the humanitarian of the year. Where does your philanthropic nature come from? A: I think it's just having a passion for something and doing something about it. Everyone cares about something. It's just a matter of getting off your butt and taking some action. There's not a whole lot of difference between how I feel about things and how other people do, I just like to get involved.
Q: This past offseason you traveled to Africa with the Right to Play organization. What was the most meaningful part of that journey for you? A: The thing that struck me the most is just thinking about North American society compared to life in Africa. Over there, there is a vast difference in wealth and the quality of life in terms of shelter, having food to eat, having clothes, the simple things we take for granted, even having a family. So many kids didn't have a family, they have been on their own for so long. Then on the other side of the scale, you have the outlook on life, and how they help each other, how they are happy for what they do have and how they approach everything in a positive way. I met orphans who had no family, but still went out and taught themselves English because it might help them get a step forward in life. Seeing that attitude in the kids and how strong they were, then you compare that to people out here that have all the advantages but complain about what they don't have. It gave me a lot of perspective about how twisted some things can be when so much energy in Western society is used on wanting a better car, a bigger house or more money.
Q: How did the kids in Africa respond to you? A: They were pumped to see athletes come to where they live. They didn't know much about ice hockey but they knew we were from America, they know what Right to Play is. They know we were raising money and trying to help them out, so they were pumped to have some white guys come over from America that they could make look foolish on the soccer pitch [laughs].
Q: You happen to work in an industry with incredibly wealthy people. Have you been able to share your African experience with some of your friends in the NHL and solicit their help in this cause?
A: For sure. Guys have seen the articles or things on television and they approach me. It's not really me getting on a soapbox and preaching about it. Robyn Regehr is a close friend of mine; he's going to Africa next summer. Zdeno Chara wants to get involved, Patrice Bergeron is also interested. I have had a number of agents ask me about the program on behalf of their clients. We all know how important sport has been in our lives, so I think that's why so many guys are attracted to something like Right to Play because it makes so much sense to us.
Q: You are also an avid environmental activist. What kind of work have you been doing? A: The biggest thing is the program we have going with the NHLPA getting guys to go carbon neutral; that's something seven of us started in Calgary. It has ballooned into a leaguewide project. Basically, we now have a broad program explaining what carbon neutral is, explaining why it's important. After we delivered our presentation to 17 teams, we are up to 350 players signed up to go carbon neutral. I think we expect more than 500 to be part of the program.
Q: As an environmentalist in oil- and gas-rich Calgary, you must have been quite the renegade there. A: That's why I'm in Boston right now [laughs].
Q: Could a career in politics be in your future? A: I've gone way too left, way too left wing to ever be elected [laughs].
Q: If you were an American, which presidential candidate would you support? A: Oh, man, I'm not big on any of the candidates. Can Ralph Nader run again? He'd have my vote.
Andrew Ference's fisticuffs with Sidney Crosby last month drew raves. OK, not really.
Q: What about a job down the road as NHL commissioner or the head of the NHLPA? A: It'd be cool. I don't know if I have the credentials for it, but it would be neat to be involved in that stuff. I think I need an extensive legal or business background to lead those groups, but it'd be cool to be an adviser.
Q: Playing in Boston where the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox are all doing so well, what is that like for you being on the Bruins right now? A: It's frustrating because it's like we've become the team everyone loves to doubt. It's like they don't want us to do too well. The fans aren't as jaded as much as the media are as far as picking on the Bruins. The fans are ready to support us as long as we win. It's an opportunity for us to prove the detractors wrong and prove our loyal fans right, so we can embrace the underdog role in this city.
Q: You have played for Pittsburgh, Calgary and Boston. Who is the best leader you have played with? A: Jarome [Iginla] is the ultimate leader. He's a guy who will play the way the coach says, within the system. He doesn't put himself on a pedestal above anyone else on the team. He'll fight, fore check, he'll hit, he'll take a hit and still be the superstar player. He's right near the top of the league in scoring right now. He's just an unbelievable leader.
Q: Last month you fought Sidney Crosby in his first NHL fight. How did that fight start?
A: I wish it was a better fight, since I get to talk about it so much. It started like any other fight. I finished my check on him in the corner and then he punched me and I punched him back, then we fought. I was surprised it was his first fight, because I've seen him punch guys before after he gets hit. I figured someone else would have grabbed him and started a fight. It would have been a fight no matter who it was because that's the way hockey is supposed to be -- if you give a guy a shot in the face, you better be willing to drop the gloves to follow up with it.
Q: What kind of reaction did you get from friends, fans and the media after fighting with arguably the game's biggest star? A: My sister called me, she's a teacher in Alberta, she told me she has been getting a hard time from her students [laughs]. My friends kind of laughed and said they wished it was a little longer, they wanted more punches thrown. Guys on the team have thought it was funny how much exposure it got, especially since they think it was the worst fight I have had this year.
Q: But can you really win a fight like that? Let's say you broke his jaw or gave him a concussion. Then you're known as the guy who injured Sidney Crosby. Isn't it a losing battle for you? A: [Laughs.] if I did that, I would have to fight Georges Laraque every time we played Pittsburgh. I wouldn't want that [laughs].
Q: Did Laraque or any of the other Pens have words for you after you fought Crosby? A: No, nobody said anything. That's the thing, nobody should have to say anything, the kid's not little. He's bigger than I am.
Q: Crosby cut you during the fight. How good a fighter is he? A: No, his visor cut me. He came up and his visor cut the top of my head. Go back to that Jarome question. Jarome in my books is a better hockey player than Crosby because he does those things. He will fight, he will lay his body on the line and take the hit and not complain if someone hits him and stuff like that. The superstars of the league should have to do that because they're hockey players, they're not ice-skating princesses. Hockey is an emotional game, you have to stand up for yourself. You have to stand up for your actions. If you punch somebody in the face, then you should fight, that's the way hockey is suppose to be.
Q: So are you saying Crosby is a little soft? A: Well, he's not Jarome.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.