It’s easy to get a bit preoccupied with the lightning quick scoring starts enjoyed by Marc Savard and Phil Kessel in the early going of the hockey season, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli issued an interesting response when asked to single out a Bruins player that’s really impressed/pleasantly surprised him in the early going.
His answer: defenseman Andrew Ference.
The 29-year-old Edmonton native has quietly picked up three assists in the first seven games with the Bruins and also leads the hockey club in +/- with a sterling +6 on the season. Ference hasn’t tried to do anything flashy or embark on highlight reel rushes up the ice designed to steal the breath away from hockey fans in the stands, but he’s simply done the simple meat and potatoes work expected from a top four defenseman.
Ference’s motto might as well be the Emersonian creedo of “simplify, simplify, simplify.”
“He’s probably been one of our best defenseman since the start of training camp,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Why has he been that way? Because he’s keeping his game simple, and just making the good first passes. He’s really not panicking out there, and is making good decisions.
“That’s basically what we want from the players,” added Julien. “We’re not asking them to complicate the game more than they need to just execute it…and execute it well. That’s an area where Andrew Ference has been really good since Day One.”
Ference popped in a goal and 14 assists last season, but also finished the campaign saddled with a pretty underwhelming -14 for the season and missed 23 games with injuries to his core, knee and leg along the way. The knee woes really seemed to negatively effect Ference’s play down the stretch and into the playoffs, and that’s never been more apparent than watching the 5-foot-10, 189-pound blueliner play some very sound defense over the 22 minutes of ice time per game this season — the same amount of ice that he’s averaged during all three seasons wearing the Spoked B sweater.
“I think that Ference has played very well,” said Chiarelli. “He’s rebounded well. He had the bad knees last year and you could see that in his turning [on the ice].”
Julien and Chiarelli are both seeing the guy that they observed in the early going of last season before his cranky knees came into play. Just look at the numbers from last season: Ference was a -2 and had racked up 10 assists over the first 33 games of 2007-08, but after battling through injuries that lingered in the second half he scored only a goal and four assists and carried around a revealing -12 after the All-Star break.
“I’m feeling good and healthy. I’m feeling strong and fast,” said Ference. “It’s about just playing a simple game and doing my job. It’s extremely frustrating to get injured and then miss time, so that’s why the work over the summer and sacrificing the fun time is so important.
“You end up feeling good like this at the beginning of the season and hopefully you feel like this all the way through unless something freak like the Kobasew thing happens to you,” added Ference, referencing a freak injury the Bruins forward suffered after getting with a puck.
To his credit, Ference played through the pain and didn’t complain or make excuses but it’s been clear to see what a free-and-easy Ference back at full health is capable of thus far.
“I thought he played really well [last season] and then those injuries set him back a little bit,” said Julien. “Eventually he found his game again. Hopefully he can stay away from that and give us that consistent game that he’s given us for the most part when he’s healthy.”
Minutes from the GM Meetings
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli reported that a myriad of topics were broached at the NHL GM Meetings held in the Windy City of Chicago on Thursday, and several involved slight rule tweaks to defensive play in the D-Zone as well the heated Therma-Blade skates, the ever-present CBA discussions and a run-down on this season’s foray into Europe for regular season games.
Chiarelli said there wasn’t anything new to report concerning the B’s possible involvement in a European season-opener next year, but the B’s GM didn’t seem too averse to starting the season in the home of P.J. Axelsson, Sweden, next year. There’s no guarantee that the free agent forward will be in Boston next season or that it’s a potential game destination for the Black and Gold next October, but it’s certainly hockey food for thought.
“It really is nice this time of year,” said Chiarelli, who said there’s been some connection between the European NHL game locales in relation to the home areas of certain players on participating NHL teams. “It’s always been a point of discussion with the NHL concerning expansion into Europe. We didn’t discuss that [this year], but we just talked about the teams that went over there this year and the logistics of it.
“We talked about a couple of — in the infant stages for discussion purposes — rule tweaks that would create offense based upon making defensive plays in the defensive zone and restricting those plays,” said Chiarelli. “Goals are up a bit from where they were last season, so that’s their objective along with lead changes [in games]. We touched on a lot of topics and it was more about gauging interest to lead in to the next meeting.”
Kobasew on the mend
Chuck Kobasew, who’s been out of action since taking a shot off his right leg and suffering a fractured right ankle, has engaged in brief skating sessions over the last few days, and is approaching a return to the Bruins lineup. The Bruins winger suffered the injury during Boston’s opening night win in Colorado on Oct. 9, and could be ready for a return to the B’s lineup right around their Oct. 30 game against the Calgary Flames — if all goes according to the current plan.
“We said that it was a minimum of three weeks [to heal] and hopefully he’s on a pace to be back sooner rather than later,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It’s encouraging. He’s going out for a few minutes every day, and this is the second day he’s been out there. He’s doing better, but we’ll give him some time.”