- Scott Burnside, NHL
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You might think Andrew Ference would be a little antsy as he prepares to go back to Ceske Budejovice and his temporary life as a player in the Czech Elite League.
He and his mates played in Prague Nov. 2, and Ference stored his gear there before jumping on a flight back to Boston the next morning to take advantage of the league's late-fall break. He has enjoyed picking up the slack on the parenting front, handling pick-up and drop-off duty for his two daughters before flying back to the Czech Republic on Friday even though the NHL and its players are at what most consider a critical juncture in negotiations.
But no matter how close the end of the lockout might be -- and optimism is at its highest since the lockout began as the players and owners agreed to meet for a third consecutive day Thursday -- Ference is trying to be as Zen as possible.
And Zen for the veteran defenseman now means plying his trade with the same Czech team for whom he played during the last lockout when they were in the country's second division.
"I'm happy to be in the rhythm of a hockey season," he told ESPN.com this week.
The alternative is to ride the roller coaster of emotion, sitting at home waiting and hoping the two sides can agree on a deal that works for both parties.
"I don't even think about the negative side of [the lockout] because if you do, it can drive you crazy," he added.
One might imagine that it would be difficult to pack up and head back across the Atlantic with the prospect of a deal closer than at any point in these often disappointing negotiations, but for Ference and presumably many others who will make similar flights to Europe in the coming days, the opposite is true.
"I think it makes it easier because you see there may be a horizon," the Bruins' defender said.
Eight years ago, when then-Calgary teammate Roman Turek lured Ference across the pond as the NHL allowed an entire season to go by the boards, he lived in a townhouse about 20 miles outside of downtown. It was nice, but this time around, Ference asked the team, which looks after lodging issues for imports, if there was something more centrally located.
Bingo. A nice apartment in downtown historic Ceske Budejovice about a seven-minute walk from the arena and five minutes from the picturesque town square, where he has spent many an afternoon having coffee or indulging in his local favorite of garlic soup and steak tartar.
"Garlic soup is a go-to for sure. Everybody around me might not appreciate it, but I have it probably every second or third meal," he said.
Pork, duck, wild boar are also favorites.
Less so hamburgers.
"Their hamburgers are awful," Ference said.
And then there's the beer.
Ference admits he's not much of a wine guy, but living in the city that boasts the original Budvar (Budweiser) brewery -- history sites suggest beer has been brewed in the city since the 13th century -- is another perk of living abroad while waiting for the lockout to run its course.
The brewery is one of the team's sponsors, in fact the team's home arena is named after the famous lager brewed there, and recently Ference was given a behind-the-scenes tour.
"Just the history is amazing," he said of the town in South Bohemia whose history dates back to 1265. "I love it. I loved it the last time I was here, which is why I had no hesitation about coming back."
And living in the heart of the town means that the car given to him by a local dealership -- one that bears his name splashed across the side -- doesn't get the kind of workout if might otherwise get.
"I think I've driven the car maybe 30 or 40 kilometers," said Ference, who is known for his support of eco causes. "It's great."
Ference has taken part in seven games for Ceske Budejovice, which is middle of the pack in the 14-team league, scoring once and adding two assists. He has played against Boston teammate David Krejci and every night crosses paths with one or two NHL players, mostly from the Czech Republic.
He has seen teammate and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who is playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the Prague franchise and came to watch Ference's team in a game in the Czech capital. Bruins teammates Tyler Seguin and Dennis Seidenberg are also playing in Europe and returned to Boston during the break in the European schedule, skating informally with other teammates this week as they had before going to Europe.
The conversations are the same whenever NHLers come in contact, usually at the end of games, which always include a handshake: "How you doing, stay healthy, have fun, see you soon."
"I think there's a bit of an understanding. I think everybody pretty much understands we're all in the same situation," Ference said.
For all the NHLers in Europe, there is something of a competing sense of purpose. Given the costs of insuring contracts, staying healthy is paramount. Ference has only one year left on his deal, so he is paying a relatively small amount, around $7,500 a month, to insure the after-tax value of his NHL deal, but others with more lucrative, long-term deals are paying tens of thousands of dollars a month.
It is why many players chose to play in leagues such as the Czech Elite league or in Switzerland, where the emphasis is on skilled play as opposed to bone-crushing physical play.
"People aren't dumping it in your corner and running you every single shift," Ference explained.
But there is a shared appetite for competition that brings itself to bear regardless of the league and the level of competition.
"There's still a sense of pride, the desire to be part of something really good," Ference said. "At the end of the day, you're playing hockey. Anything can happen."
So far, so good on the health front.
Now if the negotiations can also cooperate, Ference will be able to trade in his video chats with his girls for pick-up and drop-off duty in person back in the U.S.
Still, even that has worked out pretty well as he talks to his family two or three times during the day, usually in the morning Boston time while Ava, 7, and Stella, 3, are getting ready for their day. Then, as Ference is getting ready for bed in Ceske Budejovice, he talks to the family as they're getting ready for dinner.
Andrew Ference is ignoring the roller coaster of emotions that would come with following the latest in CBA negotiations by enjoying his time in the Czech Republic, writes Scott Burnside.