When most visiting players arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a road game against the Florida Panthers, they think of beaches and warm weather._ For Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Brad Ference, there is a different reason why he will enjoy this trip to the sunshine state.
Ference will return to Florida to face his former team on Wednesday night for the first time since the Coyotes acquired the physical defenseman late last season from the Panthers in exchange for Darcy Hordichuk._ Game time is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Arizona time at the Office Depot Center._
Ference spent the previous four seasons in the Florida organization and he understands the emotion he will feel playing against his former teammates._ The Panthers are the only National Hockey League team that Ference has not played against.
“It will be exciting to match up against a lot of the friends I have on the Panthers,” said Ference, who made his NHL debut with Florida on March 10, 2000._ “I am anticipating the game to be a lot of fun and I know the rink already, so that is one advantage._ Anytime you go up against your previous team, it gives you that extra jump in your step and I am looking forward to the experience.”
It was during his time in Florida that Ference developed into a full-time NHL defenseman and utilized his size to become a physical presence on the ice._ After splitting two seasons between Florida and the Louisville Panthers, their top minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League, Ference spent the entire 2001-02 campaign in the NHL._ He recorded 2-15-17 totals with 254 penalty minutes (PIM) in 80 games that season._ The Calgary, Alberta native has positive memories of his time spent with the Panthers.
“The bottom line is Florida gave me an opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Ference._ “I have nothing but good things to say about the organization because they gave me the chance to play a lot of minutes._ I got to know quite a few people in the area and they have a great fan base
Ference had the opportunity to play in 167 career games with the Panthers colleting
4-24-28 totals with 422 PIM._ The 24 year old defenseman had the chance to play under head coach
Mike Keenan and view the Panthers reassemble a lineup that may compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this year.
“They are going to work hard and compete every night with Mike (Keenan) behind the bench,” said Ference._ “They have a good core of young players in Olli Jokinen and Niklas Hagman, so they will definitely be a good test for us on the road.”
It is possible Wednesday’s game could feature two undefeated goaltenders in Phoenix’s Sean Burke and Florida’s Roberto Luongo._ Burke is 2-0-0 in his first two starts with a .982 save percentage, while Luongo is 1-0-2 in his three games played._ Ference has gone up against both goaltenders in practice and realizes how each individual can dominate a game.
“Everyone knows what we have in Sean (Burke) and how important he is to our hockey team,” said Ference._ “Roberto (Luongo) is one of the best young goaltenders in the League and he is going to carry the workload for the Panthers._ He will probably play about 65 games this year, if not more, and give his team a chance to win every night.”
The game against Florida will be the second game of a three game road trip for Phoenix.__ Ference will try and help the Coyotes franchise open the season with three straight wins for the first time since the 1987-88 campaign._ He will have the opportunity to play in front of the fans that supported him in the past, but at the same time, look forward to his future as a Coyote._
“We are off to a good start and the guys are playing well right now,” said Ference._ “We have to play hard every game and continue the momentum we have received after the first two contests.”
PHOENIX COYOTES (2-0-0-0)
Goals – Daymond Langkow (2)
Assists – Shane Doan/Mike Johnson (2)
Points – Shane Doan/Daymond Langkow/Mike Johnson/Ladislav Nagy (2)
Goaltenders – Sean Burke (2-0-0, 0.48 gaa, .982 save percentage)
FLORIDA PANTHERS (1-0-2-0)
Goals – Kristian Huselius (2)
Assists –Mike Van Ryn (2)
Points - Kristian Huselius/Viktor Kozlov/Marcus Nilson/Olli Jokinen/
Niklas Hagman/Mike Van Ryn_ (2)
Goaltenders – Roberto Luongo (1-0-2-0, 1.26 gaa, .960 save percentage)