Dallas Eakins and the Edmonton Oilers ended the suspense specualtion this past weekend and named newly acquired defenseman Andrew Ference as the 14th captain in team history, taking over from the departed Shawn Horcoff.
It isn’t usually common practice to name a player captain before they have even played a game in the team’s uniform. These are no ordinary times in Oil Country and everything seems to be changing.
A new GM in Craig MacTavish, a new head coach in Dallas Eakins, and now a new captain in Ference will hopefully usher in a new era and culture for the Edmonton Oilers. All three of the above mentioned individuals share a number of traits, most notably a high compete level and a distinct dislike for losing.
The new postings and infusion of enery from the three individuals mentioned, have expectations soaring for the team this season and a heightened anticipation for the season to start. There isn’t a better choice that embodies MacTavish’s desire for a culture change in Edmonton and a new winning attitude.
There had been much speculation over who would wear the “C” for the Oilers, with many assuming one of the team’s young stars like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall or Sam Gagner would take on the honours.
The Oilers, in their current state, made a smart move giving the responsibility and leadership to Ference. Eberle, Hall or Gagner will still be the captain and likely the long term leader for the team, but it’s not going to be just yet. Expectations are extremely high entering the season and the pressure increasing with fans impatience over the rebuild and constant cellar dwelling of the team in past years. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a young player and expect them to continue to progress as a player.
Ference comes over as a veteran, a Stanley Cup champion and playoff tested warrior. He may not be a true No.1 defenseman in the league, but he is a top four guy and will likely start on the top pairing with Justin Schultz. He’s also tough, competitive and more importantly, as an Edmonton native, badly wants and respects the honour of wearing the “C”.
“He’s everything you look for … you start rattling off words like compete, honest, commitment — his young man has everything you want in a leader,” Eakins said. “But the biggest thing is he can unite an organization.
It also gives the Oilers a chance to see, of those young players, which one will emerge as an ultimate leader and in a few years, which one deserves to wear the “C” for the long haul. Ference is a player that has been a part of winning programs and knows what it takes to get there. He won a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins and has been to the finals with both the Bruins (’13) and Calgary Flames (’04). He will be an ideal leader for the young players to learn from.
Hall for one, endorsed the choice of Ference as team captain;
“I think it’s great. He has a lot of experience in winning and that’s important for our group. We don’t really have a lot of that, especially with the young guys here,” Hall said of Ference. “He’s come in, he’s really taken charge off-ice and on-ice, he’s a really good guy and I think it’s the right move for us.”
Ference wore an “A” on the Bruins team last season along with Patrice Bergeron supporting captain Zdeno Chara, two exceptional leaders, and will look to translate his lessons learned to a squad with far more youth and inexperience.
Being an Edmonton native and idolizing the Oilers of the ’80’s as a kid, is just the cherry on top. A former neighbour of Oilers forward Petr Klima, Ference gained some exposure to the Oilers in his youth. Things have come full circle as he has returned to Edmonton and in all likelihood will finish his career with his hometown Oilers.
There’s no guarantee he’ll wear the “C” for the duration of his contract, after all Lee Fogolin wore the letter for just two seasons before giving it up to Wayne Gretzky in 1983. In this situation, for a player with Ference’s makeup, experience and winning pedigree, not to mention the fact he chose to come to Edmonton, it’s a great fit for the Oilers.
According to Eakins, the alternate captains will rotate through four to six players, citing that there are a number of capable leaders in the dressing room. Eberle, Hall and Nick Schultz wore letters last season with other players in the mix this season likely including Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth and Ladislav Smid.