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Did late-night — err, early-morning — partying undo the potential of the previous iteration of the Edmonton Oilers?
That’s how Andrew Ference would tell it.
Brought in as captain to provide veteran leadership and stability to the back end in 2013 after the franchise had spent three of the previous four first overall draft picks on highly-talented forwards, Ference suggested on a recent appearance on the 31 Thoughts podcast that any influence he could have had was diminished in large part due to the team’s college-like atmosphere.
“You had a group of players that talked about how they wanted to make the playoffs, and talked about how sick they were of losing, and then by Game No. 3 after losing 6-1, they’re straight out to the bar to three in the morning, lighting up the night life scene in Edmonton,” Ference said.
“Like, come on, give me a break. It was to the point where it was ridiculous where the lifestyle was way more important than actually playing the game and making the playoffs.”
He later added: “You could have had any kind of defence or any kind of system, if you go on a Western swing and your guys are out every single night until 5 a.m., you’re not going to win too many games.”
The scene in Edmonton, he suggested, was a stark contrast to his time with the Boston Bruins, and more specifically the Stanley Cup winning roster from 2011 that was taught to work hard and in turn improve every day in practice under the guidance of captain Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
“You’re going at each other, like game intensity — and that is how you get better. That is how you be a playoff contender. That is how you be a champion. And you try to instil some of those values. We had some other guys who had been on the playoff teams and they had the same frustration. They’d come and practice hard and there was a group of guys there that had like, it was too cool to try hard.
“Derogatory terms for trying too hard in practice. That’s the culture, right. So how do you break that?”
As captain, it was Ference’s job to bring those lessons from Boston and impart his wisdom on the developing core with the Oilers.
While he tried, he said, he was unable to command the room.
“You come in as an older guy but far from being one of the better players on the team. So you can be a leader with experience but I’m not a game changer. I’m like a No. four or five defenceman. So your voice only goes so far with people that only respect how good your toe drag is and whether or not you’re out partying. So your voice doesn’t carry much weight with people that don’t put value on those aspects that I was bringing from Boston.”
While Ference doesn’t name names or incriminate anyone, he begrudges those responsible for prioritizing partying over winning.
He said his final seasons in Edmonton were a “waste,” and time he’ll “never get back.”
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