Friday, April 24, 2015

Andrew Ference: 4 Autographed Cards

I took a little over a week off to solve certain problems in my life, and was brought back to the blog by this tremendous return Thursday evening, a 35-day trip that started with my sending Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference three cards and a fan letter on March 19th, 2015, and ended with my receiving four back, on April 23rd, 2015, signed in black sharpie.

You can tell Ference's story backwards and forward and what you'll end up with is a guy with a lot of heart who is extremely passionate on the ice - at times crossing certain lines because of it, such as when, as a member of the Boston Bruins, he gave the middle finger to the Bell Centre crowd after scoring a decisive playoff goal or laid an extremely dangerous hit to Monréal Canadiens fourth-line center Jeff Halpern's head in the next game, or when he was suspended earlier this season for a high hit on Zack Kassian.

But the 208th pick of the 1997 draft who was born in Edmonton and raised in the suburb of hockey-friendly Sherwood Park (where Gerald Diduck, Ken Hitchcock and Tony Twist hail from, notably) is also a tough, courageous 5'11'' and 185-pound defensive defenseman who won't back down from anyone in the NHL in any context, is sound defensively, can be counted upon for some 15-20 points per season and good penalty killing and who will turn it up when it matters - come playoff time.

His points-per-game average is 1-in-4 during the regular season, and it nears 1-in-3 in the postseason. He was on the Calgary Flames' magical run that ended with a seven-game loss in the Finals in 2003-04 with my favourite captain (Jarome Iginla) and goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff) of their era, and he won the Stanley Cup with the 2010-11 Bruins.

He's intense, and he'll do anything for the logo in front of the jersey, usually to the point where he'll forget about what's best for the name on the back of it. He'll defend his teammates, he'll get involved in a rivalry, he'll do everything it takes to win - and he knows how much it takes to be on either side of a Game 7 Cup Finals. Not only was he an ideal fit for an Oilers team that needed a solid second-pair defender to center their core around, he was also the best choice as captain, to lead that young squad as they strive towards the greatness that was always supposed to happen.

And he's even more valuable off the ice, the winner of last season's King Clancy Trophy (for best humanitarian), for not just getting involved in the community and helping people once, but staying with them as a friend, as is the case with this young fan from Boston (yes, you'll cry). He also created the NHL's carbon-neutral program, which has over 500 players purchasing carbon offset credits to make the league's carbon footstep eco-friendlier.

He's impossible to root against, except in a Bruins uniform. And thankfully those days are over for now. Still, winning the Cup and being part of the Habs-Bruins rivalry warranted that I include these cards as part of my package:
They're variants of the same #37 card from Panini's 2013-14 Score set (the one on the right being the ''Gold'' version), showing him pushing the play forward through a hard pass or a shot. I just noticed through this scan that the Gold card is a close-up of the original, regular-issue card (it's not so clear to the naked eye). They show him wearing the B's white (away) uniform.

And, of course, I had to have him with my childhood team, the Oilers, in their classic/current white (now-away) uniform:
The card I sent was the one on the right, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 MVP set (card #121), a busy-looking set I reviewed in November. And he was kind enough to add the 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee card (#7 in the collection, also manufactured by UD) on the left, which made my week, to be honest.

Sometimes, I'm one of those who say things like ''hockey players have so much heart and such kind souls'', but I feel it's nice to remove the generalizations and acknowledge the specific individuals who make that statement true, and Andrew Ference is the perfect candidate for that.

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