Andrew Ference comfortable with hometown Oilers | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaAndrew Ference comfortable with hometown Oilers

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | 12:10 PM

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Defenceman Andrew Ference (21) is unfazed by his hometown Oilers having missed the playoffs the past seven seasons. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press).
Defenceman Andrew Ference (21) is unfazed by his hometown Oilers having missed the playoffs the past seven seasons. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press).

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CBC Sports is previewing each of the seven Canadian teams leading up to opening night of the 2013-14 NHL season, with the Edmonton Oilers stepping into the spotlight.

CBC Sports is previewing each of the seven Canadian teams leading up to opening night of the 2013-14 NHL season. Here, the Edmonton Oilers step into the spotlight.

The skinny

The Oilers have the longest current playoff-less streak at seven seasons ... Dallas Eakins is the team's fifth head coach in six seasons following Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger ... 20-year-old centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who underwent left shoulder surgery last April, is not expected to play until late October or early November ... As much as Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz have taken the next step in order for the Oilers to take the next step, strong, consistent seasons from veterans David Perron, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner also are needed ... Goalie Devan Dubnyk has made strides, but also needs to take the next step in order to help the young core develop.  

Three questions: Andrew Ference

After leaving Edmonton 18 years ago to play junior and later win a Memorial Cup with the Portland Winter Hawks, the 34-year-old Ference returns to play for his hometown Oilers. He arrives home a Stanley Cup champion with the 2010-11 Boston Bruins and brings a combined 880 NHL regular-season and playoff games of experience with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames and Bruins.

Ference was an avid Oilers fan in his youth. His parents had season tickets and Ference used to take care of Petr Klima's lawn in the summer in exchange for visits to Oilers practices during the year.

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses you have seen with this young team in training camp?

"The strength of this team is that everybody has an openness to developing a new attitude and identity here. This team has gone through so many coaching changes and some frustrating seasons and everybody has got to that point in which they are ready for success. I think they realize that success takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice.

"Dallas has come in here with that sort of demanding attitude and everybody has responded to it well. That's good because, sometimes, you get those players who fight against it. I haven't seen any resistance to change.

"As far as the weakness, it's maybe some of the history. If you lose so many games, you can get used to it. You want to make sure you don't get into that habit and being okay with just good. The biggest thing is you have to realize what it takes to win and be consistent and not accept anything less. For a lot of guys, they haven't had success at this level. They need to learn what it takes and that it's not okay to be mediocre."

  • With the Bruins, you were with a team with plenty of leadership. Do you need to change your role with the Oilers and be more vocal?

"I think you have to remain the exact same person you are. If you don't, you just look like a fraud. There are no secrets in the locker room. The guys know exactly who you are right away. If you come in and try to be someone you aren't, it just doesn't work.

"Who I was in Boston is who I will be here. Even in Boston, when we first started to go there, there were a lot of guys who had zero experience. We built on that and did it together.

"This is a similar situation here. I'm older now. I have experienced a lot more playoff games and a lot more success. I will bring that experience and share stories and tidbits here and there. I won't do it in a forced manner or in a lecture-type manner."

  • What has it been like for you to return home to play for the team you grew up cheering for?

"It's been great. I was here a lot in the summer, trying to find a place to live. We just did a lot of the prep work before the season and before the madness began. I have two girls in school and we wanted to get them settled. I've actually felt it's been a pretty good transition. I've had the whole summer to feel settled.

"By the time training camp came around, I felt I was living here, not just a visitor. I've seen a lot of family. I've rediscovered the city. The hockey part is the easiest part. Universally, hockey players have an easy time to meld with a group and join up with the guys. We skate so early now, you get to meet most of the guys and, by the time training camp starts, you hit the ground running."

Training camp development

Gagner suffered a broken jaw in two places after taking an errant high stick from Vancouver's Zack Kassian in a pre-season game on Saturday. Gagner underwent surgery on Tuesday and has been ruled out indefinitely. With Nugent-Hopkins already missing from the lineup, Hall will need to fill in at centre even more than initially hoped for.

Player on hot seat

Justin Schultz (eight goals, 27 points in 48-game rookie season). He finished with a bang -- a one-goal, four-point night in the regular-season finale. But after a strong start (five goals, 13 points, a plus/minus rating of minus-4 in first 20 games), his production dropped in the second half. He was a minus-13 in his final 28 games.

Key stat

46.1 -- Faceoff percentage for the Oilers last season, which ranked last in the 30-team NHL. Two of their top-three faceoff men, Jerred Smithson (57.4 %) and Eric Belanger (53.7 %), are no longer with Edmonton, but newcomer Boyd Gordon (57.3 %) should help the cause.

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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