He's a leader

Flames blueliner Andrew Ference stands by his comments criticizing both the NHL and NHLPA for...

Flames blueliner Andrew Ference stands by his comments criticizing both the NHL and NHLPA for sitting around and not continuing to negotiate a new labour deal. (Bruce Bennett Studios)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

As of last night, Andrew Ference hadn't been reprimanded by the NHLPA.

Hadn't been told to keep quiet, say he'd been misquoted, claim his words were taken out of context or allege he didn't understand a question because English isn't his first language.

Too bad. Anyone who knows the Flames defenceman is well aware he'd welcome a phone call from NHLPA head Bob Goodenow or his lieutenant Ted Saskin a day after he told the Sun it's time for them to start negotiating and stop waiting on the sidelines.

After all, it would be a glorious chance to give them a piece of his mind, too.

And that's what we all should hope would happen.

Unlike far too many lemmings on both sides of the NHL lockout, Ference is willing to say what he feels, what he believes.

Best of all, he's willing to say it even if those words ruffle a few feathers.

That's why he called the current impasse "asinine" and questioned both sides' bargaining inaction with the words: "How are you going to solve a conflict without communication? I don't understand the motivation behind sitting around."

Yesterday, Ference refused to back down from his words -- and was given every opportunity to do it -- saying he simply relayed the feelings of all fans and plenty of players.

Bobby Orr made similar comments, which caused Ference to quip: "We defencemen are smart."

Now the time has come for everyone else to raise their voices. There are more than 700 other players in the NHLPA and more than a few have the intelligence to not drink the Kool-Aid they've been offered for years.

Guaranteed, more than a few have the intestinal fortitude to voice their displeasure with the way things are going.

Same thing goes for the owners, although for some reason Gary Bettman's ability to fine them a six-figure amount curtails that.

What Ference said wasn't a sign there's a crack in the player ranks. He didn't say a hard salary cap is the answer or he'd be willing to cross the line as a "scab."

Because of that, he'll likely elude wrath from the suits who are ruining the game. What he said is the men paid to represent the players should make a greater effort to end the lockout that's already five weeks in length.

He said just as much to Bettman, too. What must next happen is another party involved in this ridiculous stalemate do the same.

What's stopping Jarome Iginla from calling Goodenow, Saskin or even Trevor Linden and telling them to pick up the phone and meet the ownership side face-to-face?

What's stopping Joe Thornton? Or Joe Sakic? Or Mike Modano? Or Steve Yzerman? Or Scott Stevens?

(OK, Iginla and his wife, Kara, are currently celebrating the birth of their daughter so he's been a little busy. But you get the point.)

Likewise, what's preventing Flames co-owner -- and the league's chairman of the board -- Harley Hotchkiss from telling Bettman to do the same?

Same thing with Jeremy Jacobs in Boston. Stan Kroenke in Denver. Philly's Ed Snider. John McCaw of Vancouver.

Bless Ference for having the guts to articulate what so many else are thinking.

Unfortunately, and he'll admit it, he's only one voice and a small fish in the pond.

Only the bigwigs and stars doing the talking will truly make a difference in this impasse. So many say they care about the fans. So many know the ones being truly hurt by the lockout are the officials, vendors, ushers and waiters/waitresses who need the income from NHL hockey to survive.

Now the time has come to back those sentiments with something tangible, such as words to implore a solution. It's time for the rest of the lemmings to stop trailing Bettman and Goodenow and follow Ference's lead. Then maybe the head honchos will listen, too.


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