As the NHL free trade deadline neared in July 2013, Andrew Ference was a hot commodity for teams looking to add experience and grit. After helping the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, and career high goals the following season, teams were lining up for the talented defenceman.
“Like most people, if you love your job you will excel at it.”
Along came the Oilers with an offer he couldn’t refuse, and within months his toughness and leadership abilities were recognized and he was quickly named as the 14th captain in the Oilers history, after such greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Doug Weight and Glen Sather.
“Both my wife and I were born in Edmonton, and we grew up here [in Sherwood Park] so we knew it would be a comfortable city to slide back into for us. I also had a ton of hometown pride too,” said Ference.
As with many Oilers’ captains before him, giving back to the community was something Oilers leadership looked for in their captain. Thankfully Ference already had a long and storied history of becoming involved in the community beyond his hockey talents. Ference’s association with noted environmentalist David Suzuki while playing for the Calgary Flames between 2002 and 2004 led him to create a carbon-neutral program for the NHL. The program now includes over 500 players who purchase carbon offset credits to counteract the negative environmental impact of professional sports.
In February 2012, National Geographic began a 10-episode Web series called Beyond the Puck, highlighting Andrew’s life as a NHL Player and “eco-warrior.”
One of his first tasks after arriving in Edmonton was to bring the November Project to the city. The “Project” is a free fitness movement that was born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. Now present in 15 cities across four time zones in North America, the movement is using a simple sense of accountability to motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving.
“I was running stairs at Harvard Stadium on my own. I had a friend in Boston and he knew that I was always running, so he suggested I give it a try to run with other people because running is a mental challenge and it’s easier with other people around. So I went out with this group and never stopped,” said Ference.
In its most simplistic form, the November Project encourages people to meet in the early morning (6 am in Edmonton) in various locations three times a week to run, hit stairs, and other physical activities early in the morning. After the trade, Ference was the first person to introduce the November Project to a Canadian city, and said he would love to see it expand to other Canadian cities.
“The November Project was a big part of my life in Boston, for two reasons: for the friends that I made and the people that I met, and because it was such a great initiative for the community as well. I didn’t want to lose that, selfishly for myself, but it also made so much sense to bring it to a Canadian city,” said Ference.
He adds that several people in other Canadian cities are attempting to expand the project, but that it does take a solid group of people willing to get up at 5 am and hit some stairs.
And all that community involvement has recently been recognized in this year’s NHL Awards. On June 24, Ference was the recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. This annual award, given by NHL writers and broadcasters, is given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
“Mixing it up for me keeps it interesting, so it doesn’t feel like such a grind.”
Despite an already grueling hockey training schedule, Ference said he thrives on the diversity of different training exercises beyond the rink.
“Being fit is my job. Like most people, if you love your job you will excel at it. I really enjoy being active and the challenge of trying to do something better than you have before,” said Ference.
Even in the off-season months, Ference takes his fitness regime seriously. A typical day can start with the November Project at 6 am, followed by a quick break at home to have breakfast and get his children off to school. He then heads off to his “hockey-related” exercise with Oilers’ trainers, which can include strength training, speed work and sprint work. The day can also include training from corporate trainers Body by Bennett, based out of Edmonton, as well as ice training up to five days a week as the NHL season nears.
Being very goal orientated, Ference has kept track of his data, even as far as 10 years back, to track his progress and ensure he is improving his fitness and setting new goals. But that also includes keeping track of his other “leisure” sports including cycling, cross-country running, volleyball and more.
“Mixing it up for me keeps it interesting, so it doesn’t feel like such a grind. I really look forward to different days and weeks because I always mix it up. It’s kind of like that old adage of playing different sports makes you the best in your chosen sport,” said Ference.
Diet is also a big part of Ference’s healthy lifestyle. He watches his calories closely and avoids sugary energy drinks, excess alcohol and junk food. “Instead of drinking an energy drink, I will take some algae supplements instead,” he said.
Having a higher level of fitness than most is something Ference feels gives him an advantage against others playing in the NHL, and he thrives on working harder than anyone else.
“The training was my edge when I came into the league. I was able to come into a camp and blow some old-school guys out of the water with my fitness testing and that separates you from the group and gets your foot in the door. Now everyone is working out lots, and they may be in shape, but might not be eating or sleeping properly,” said Ference.
“The longer the game goes, the happier I am. Sometimes in double overtime you can see some guys on the other team struggling. You can almost smell blood. When you know you have that physical edge it also gives you that mental edge too,” he added.
If he wasn’t playing professional hockey, Ference said he would have likely followed in mother’s footsteps in the medical field, as school was always important in the Ference household.
“I’ve always had a plan outside of hockey, just in case I didn’t make it or got hurt. So I would probably be working in sports medicine,” said Ference.
As a child growing up in Sherwood Park, hockey was only one of many sports Ference participated in.
“I am totally against parents that put their kids into hockey all year round.”
“Growing up I played lacrosse, rugby, cross-country, basketball, volleyball and more. My parents didn’t just put me in hockey, and it’s the same for me now. Just because I am playing more hockey now, it doesn’t stop me from playing those other sports,” he adds.
“I am totally against parents that put their kids into hockey all year round.”
And he has that same advice for parents of would-be future NHL stars.
“I am totally against parents that put their kids into hockey all year round and all they ever have their kids doing is hockey, hockey, hockey. How can you love something if that is all you do? It becomes repetitive and it becomes hard to get excited about it. A very small portion of people will ever make money from playing sports, so at the end of the day, parents need to remember what the goals of sports are—it’s about goal setting, overcoming obstacles, being tired and gritting your teeth, and that good feeling about accomplishing something,” said Ference.
As for those who believe they may have a shot in the NHL or in any sport, Ference said it is all about mental toughness.
“The guys that work just as hard or harder when the trainer is not around to bark orders at them have that trait to succeed. I have seen many guys who were not the most skilled, but they made it because of a tougher mental edge,” said Ference.
To find out more about the November Project visit november-project.com