Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Morris Prokop

HOCKEY HERO – Former Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference poses for a photo with Lucas Quock, 9, during an autograph session at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse March 22.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

SMILES ALL AROUND – Ava and Kyah Quock and Leah Regina also got their photo taken with former NHL’r Andrew Ference.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

UNORTHODOX SIGNING – Andrew Terence signs Tate Turpin’s soccer shoe. He also signed Turpin’s soccer ball.

Former Oilers captain comes to Whitehorse during Native Hockey Tourney

Former Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference made an appearance at the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament recently.

By Morris Prokop on April 1, 2024

Former Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference made an appearance at the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament recently.

Ference had a 16-year career as a defenceman in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Boston, Calgary and the Oilers.

Ference signed autographs and posed for pictures at the Canada Games Centre (CGC) March 22.

Hundreds of fans lined up to meet him.

Ference explained what he was doing in Whitehorse during the Yukon Native Hockey tourney.

“Being part of the Oilers alumni, working for the NHL now, have actually good partnerships with Finning Canada Caterpillar between the Oilers and NHL, so being a big sponsor of this tournament Finning invited me up and (it) fits really well with my role at the NHL. My title is director of youth strategy but our department is social impact growth and legislative affairs and so part of the work that I’ve done over the last six years has been growing the game of hockey and with that it’s taken me to a bunch of different Indigenous hockey tournaments across Canada. Selfishly for me, I just really enjoy coming to community and youth hockey tournaments. Especially ones with a cultural component. It’s a really special part of our sport, that, quite frankly, I didn’t get to experience growing up. It’s a pretty easy sell to come up and visit this one.”

Ference related how the opportunity came about.

“Finning invited me. Greg (Bury) here’s, responsible for sales, organizing all this stuff, in B.C., Alberta, and Yukon, for Finning, so he asked if I wanted to join along, come up and be a part of the tournament as much as possible, meet a bunch of people, come out for some of the receptions they have with some of their partners. Just really engage with the organizers here. Hopefully (this is) the start of many years coming up. Wouldn’t mind bringing my equipment next year and getting a little more involved.”

Ference said he coaches high school hockey. He usually gets on the ice for a couple tournaments through the NHL in New York and Seattle.

“I’m on the ice a couple times a year, staying sharp enough to hold my own, maybe not in the A Division (of the tournament).”

This was Ference’s first time in Whitehorse.

“It looks like I picked the right day. It’s beautiful and sunny and warm. And the tournament’s spectacular. Probably one of the bigger events in Whitehorse and one of the bigger tournaments in Canada for Indigenous run tournaments. So it’s special.

“What sets it apart is it’s a real communal environment. A lot of friendships developed. It’s about hockey, but it’s about so much more. Building those friendships and off-ice kind of bonds. They really set the type of environment for it.

Ference said he’s been to similar Indigenous tournaments, like one in Nova Scotia.

“Just really soaked up a lot of the cultural components of what they did at those tournaments as well, from the opening ceremonies to programming that they had between games was really special. Obviously, a lot of pride in the participants in that tournament. So I think that’s similar to here.

“Obviously a lot more than just coming to play hockey. It is a celebration of different cultures.”

Ference said he’s not blind to the fact that his generation went through school not learning a lot about Indigenous culture and history.

“My education has really come in the later parts of my career. Coming into this role with the NHL, interacting with so many different tournaments, making friends across the country that are running them. It’s been selfishly an incredible experience for myself, just wising up to hockey history. It’s got Indigenous roots, right from the MicMac hockey sticks all the way to the Dene, who are celebrating the really early origins of hockey up here. So it’s just another chance for me to broaden my horizons too.”

Ference figured he signed a few hundred autographs at the CGC on Friday.

“A lot of the kids were born after my glory days of winning a cup. That was back in 2011.

“But I think it’s neat for me to see the kids that are trying on a cup ring or trying to get an autograph or whatever it is. Get some Oiler stickers on their helmet. It’s pretty cool.

“I remember doing that when I was a kid, grabbing autographs and stuff from the Oilers when I was growing up in Edmonton. So it’s neat to be on the other side of it.”

Needless to say, Ference has some pretty good memories from his lengthy playing career.

“For sure, winning a cup with Boston. We had some pretty special teams. I live on Vancouver Island now so sometimes there’s a lot of Canucks fans that don’t remember that year so memorably. But it was a really special one for me. Even with the Flames, we went to the finals, we lost against Tampa (Bay). Pretty, pretty spectacular team and memories of being in the city, the Red Mile and everything. It was a pretty special time.

“Even though our team wasn’t so good, the Oilers, it’s nice to pull on a hometown jersey and be part of that. And I got to start my career with the Penguins. Played with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, in that generation that I watched on TV and all of a sudden, I was pulling on a jersey with them. They even assisted on a couple of my goals. It’s almost like you’re living in a dream world. So I was lucky. I got some really good memories. Across all the teams I played with.”

When asked if he had any regrets about his playing career, Ference replied, “I don’t think so. I got the full experience: winning, losing, deep playoff runs, terrible years, all the stuff. It’s a wild ride. I can’t really look back and think like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have done that differently’. Maybe the odd penalty here and there. You gotta accept it as all part of the ride. It’s pretty special. It never got old, like even at the end of a long career like still walking into a rink or walking out for warm ups. It was still so special every time.”

Ference said his favourite team to play for was Boston.

“We had such a good team, a lot of success. The other teams in the city were all winning at the time, like the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, right. There’s that kind of decade of championships in Boston. So the city just had a real vibe to it. It was a fun city to live in. We had a great really close knit group of guys and then obviously to win, it’s pretty special. And that was also the place where I spent the longest tenure.”

Ference played in Boston for about eight years.

He was asked if his career was shortened by a hip injury he had to have surgery for during the 2015-16 season, his last in the NHL.

“Not shortened. Just ended, maybe. I don’t think it would have gone much longer. You get to a certain age, obviously in our league and it gets pretty tough to stick around, but I got more than enough of an extended career to be happy with it. I was given that advice early on to play till they kick you out, which is essentially what happened. So, injury or not, I would have been kicked out.

“There is such amazing talent coming through. You watch now, all the young players that are coming into the league are just so good, so ready. So to hang on in your later years is just a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.”

Ference said a lot of people have been talking about young Whitehorse phenom Gavin McKenna, the first Yukoner to go first overall in the Western Hockey League draft, who’s been lighting it up since he got into the league as a 15-year-old last year.

“It seems like there’s high hopes for him coming in and obviously there’s (Dylan) Cozens coming out of here and playing a tough style.You see a lot of pride, obviously, with people here.

“I know there’s some good hockey talent that’s come out of Whitehorse.”

Ference added, “Kudos to the organizers. I mean, I think it’s been 44 years and they’ve got as many teams as they’ve got. What is there, a thousand participants or something like that. That takes a lot of work.”

Ference also took part in the Native hockey tourney’s ceremonial puck drop at Takhini Arena on March 22.

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