A real stand-up defenseman
Andrew Ference is my hero.
Ference spoke the truth and now he’s in trouble. He came right out and said that teammate Daniel Paille put a “bad hit’’ to the head of Dallas’s Raymond Sawada last Thursday night. Rather than blindly defend his teammate, when the whole world could see Paille was wrong, Ference said, “You can’t be hypocritical about it when it happens to you, then say it’s fine when your teammate does it. It’s a hit they’re trying to get rid of.’’
Wham. Ference violated one of those sacred tenets of sports: never go against your teammate. Always back your own guy, no matter how wrong or stupid he might be. If Pedro Martinez cowardly throws at the head of Karim Garcia because Pedro is getting his butt kicked by the Yankees, you are not allowed to say that Pedro was wrong for head-hunting. You are supposed to dummy up and play the obtuse game. You are supposed to say that probably the pitch just got away.
The Bruins have a couple of players who’ve been seriously impacted by concussions. Patrice Bergeron was hammered by Randy Jones in October 2007 and did not play again that season. Marc Savard was cheap-shotted to the head by Matt Cooke last March, suffered another concussion last month, and yesterday told us he is done for the season. Savard looked and sounded very much like a man who might retire.
So one would think there would be applause when Ference speaks out against a blind-side hit to the head (by Paille) that could have had the same impact.
No. You can’t say it about a teammate. Many athletes will tell you that if you played the game, you would know this.
“Keep it to yourself, Andrew Ference,’’ former Bruin (player and coach) Mike Milbury said on CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada.’’ “You can’t do it. You just can’t do it. It’s unacceptable.’’
Former Bruins coach Don Cherry was more emphatic on CBC: “I don’t care if your teammate is an ax murderer. What you’ve got to say to the guy, you tell him in the dressing room. You never go to the press like Ference did and say that was a bad hit. The kid’s going to lose $23,000 over that [Paille was fined and suspended for four games]. They don’t need a guy like Ference.’’
Maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember Bill Guerin taking this kind of heat when he ripped teammate Cooke for cracking Savard.
Paille sounded sour Sunday when asked about Ference’s remarks. He said he would “have different views on how I would say things, I guess.’’
When Ference was asked about the firestorm, he said his status in the locker room was solid, adding, “Ask Marc Savard how he’s feeling.’’
Poor Savard had the vacant look of Robert Duvall’s Boo Radley as he bravely and politely attempted to answer questions yesterday. It was hard to watch. It made me wonder why this man (33 years old, three children, and all the money he’ll ever need) ever would try to play hockey again. It also made me wonder how anyone could have a problem with Ference calling out a teammate for any hit that could do this to another player.
I asked Savard about the Ference/Paille fallout.
“I haven’t really been following that whole situation, so I really can’t comment on it,’’ he said. “I didn’t hear anything about anything that Andrew Ference had said or anything like that, so I don’t know. I’m kind of in the dark on that one.’’
But is it OK, even if it’s one of your teammates who did it, to say this is not a good thing?
“I think obviously, a bad hit is a bad hit, but I didn’t really follow too much,’’ Savard said, then asked for general manager Peter Chiarelli to address the question.
“I look at that and my take on that was maybe globally it’s coming,’’ said Chiarelli. “It’s things we’ve all agreed upon. In the last four years we’re dealing with significant concussions . . . so I think we’re sensitive to that. So I’m not trying to offend Andy, I’m just saying as a manager, before you make comments about stuff, I look at the tape, I talk to the persons involved if I can, and make an assessment.’’
Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi, and Bergeron were at the Garden to support Savard at his news conference. I asked Bergeron if he was OK with Ference’s remarks and the former concussion victim answered, “Well, he spoke his mind. Obviously we’ve got to realize that [Paille] feels bad about it and obviously he didn’t mean to. But I’m not gonna change my statement which I said before about the fact that there are consequences when you go for hits.
“I don’t think it did anything bad in the room, to be honest with you. Maybe it made more smoke than fire in the media. I think people think it divided our room and it really didn’t. I’m sure [Ference and Paille] are going to work it out. Andrew said it the way he saw it. That’s how he felt, and he said it.’’
Recchi said, “It’s a tough one. We’re trying to take those hits away from the game, and like Andrew says, you can’t really be hypocritical because it is your teammate. We all know Danny Paille. He’s the nicest guy in the world and would never intentionally hurt anybody. It’s just one of those hits where you have to learn, as players, to avoid.
“Andrew’s our teammate. They’re great teammates and they’ve got each other’s back. Andrew was speaking in the emotion after the game. It’s unfortunate that he’s taking the heat for this. Andrew’s been a great teammate and great to all of us. He’d have Danny’s back any day.
“I don’t think it’s a violation. Obviously it can get touchy and it’s created a big stir. But we know Andrew is going to be there for us as a teammate and a friend.’’
There’s plenty of evidence to support the notion that Ference is always there to defend his teammates on the ice.
This was different. This called for somebody to say “not OK’’ — even if talking about a teammate.
Andrew Ference was the guy.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.