BOSTON – Andrew Ference was no shrinking violet during the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago when the Bruins mastered the Canucks in a highly entertaining, competitive brand of championship hockey.
The 34-year-old B’s alternate expects more of the same in a series that should be just as compelling.
As one of the few Bruins veterans that’s experienced both sides of the Stanley Cup Finals coin firsthand -- tasting victory and also bitter defeat while with the Flames when they lost the 2003-04 finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning -- Ference knows the gaping disparity between the two opposite feelings of highest high and lowest low.
It’s safe to say Ference wants another crack at the thrill of victory rather than the agony of defeat, and that’s the message he’s passing on to the few Bruins teammates that have never experienced the Stanley Cup Finals before -- and perhaps even to a few others that might need a reminder or two along the way.
“I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s not like one year it came down to a team wanting it more than the other year. It came down to a couple of big plays and big saves, that’s about it,” said Ference, who still laments the inability of his Flames team to close out Tampa Bay when they had a chance at home in Game 6.
“I don’t know what kind of rating you want to use, but it’s as bad as you can get to as good as you can get. When you lose, you have nothing to hang your hat on. There is absolutely no satisfaction for finishing second place in this sport. It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had in hockey.
“I had such high emotions being there in the first time and picturing yourself in all of those celebrations . . . then it’s tough when you lose. When we won [two years ago], it was probably doubly good for me than for guys that had never been there before. I knew I wouldn’t have to live with the strongest emotion from my career being failure, which up until that point it had been. When you lose, it really sticks with you.”
But it’s also pretty safe to say there’s much more of a business-like approach for Ference in his third time around approaching the Finals. As a 13-year veteran that’s seen pretty much everything during his years playing hockey, Ference has the exact approach that a hockey team needs from a leader when it comes to big games.
Leave it to the bookworm Ference to bring it all back to a Harry Potter reference when talking about his approach to the Cup Finals.
“It’s not unspoken because there are a lot of lessons to be learned from what went into that. It’s not like you’re talking about Voldemort, and you can’t say his name. We want the Cup, and we’re playing for the Cup,” said Ference. “Somebody has to win, and you want to draw on any lessons and experiences that you’ve learned along the way.
“There’s no reason to dance around [the Cup win in 2011], just like there’s no reason to dance around the failures that we’ve had. Even after the Philly series where we blew the lead, it’s not like the next season that guys hid from it. You talked about it, you faced it and you learned from it. That’s the way a good team faces every experience.”
With 17 players still remaining from the Bruins team that won the Cup two years ago and a seasoned playoff veteran in Jaromir Jagr also in a featured role, there are only a couple of inexperienced players suiting up for the Black and Gold.
It will clearly be a bit of a wide-eyed experience for guys like Torey Krug and Kaspars Daugavins, but for everybody else in the B’s sweater they will use the same approach they’ve taken to the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Call it the mullet approach to the Cup Finals if you’d like: Business in the front end, securing 12 wins, and then the mother of all parties in the back once the Cup has been secured.
The expectation among the players in the B’s dressing room is that there should be no surprises. They have more than 1,000 games of playoff experience under their collective belt, which should be a definite strength in the matchup of two well-balanced, excellent hockey teams.
“The first time anybody gets there it’s pretty awe-inspiring when you see everything going on, and you have obviously waited a long time for that opportunity. Well, for most guys, they’ve had to wait a couple of years anyway,” said Ference. “But after that it isn’t such an abstract thing anymore. In your first time around it’s crazy, but then you realize that two teams have to make it, and somebody has to win. It’s hockey, and you have to do it the same way you’ve always done it.
“It gets more down to business, and knowing that you’ve got a job to do. Most guys get over the hoopla the first time around.”
It should be a no-frills approach for the Black and Gold with puck drop set for Wednesday night at the hockey barn known as the “Mad House”, and there’s no denying the stakes involved for both Boston and Chicago. When it’s all over, one team is going to be looked at as the dominant force in the NHL over the last five years, and the other is going to be lauded for a nice run to the consolation prize.
Ference knows which side he wants to be on, and he will be doing everything in his power over the next two weeks to make sure that happens.