Meeting of the minds

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

Most of Andrew Ference's teammates drive gas-guzzling beasts.

His choice of transportation is a hybrid Toyota.

You bet he's trying to spread a message.

"That's what I'm doing. You set the example," said the Calgary Flames defenceman. "I'll park my Prius beside the Hummer and the Land Rover and hope that the guilt kicks in soon enough."

One person can't change the world but Ference believes it's a start. Becoming more environmentally aware is one of his favourite subjects and his interest recently resulted in meeting one of his role models, Dr. David Suzuki.

A couple of months ago, Ference was interviewed for an off-beat article in a Toronto newspaper about his outside interests and he said the one person he'd love to meet is Suzuki, one of the world's foremost environmentalists.

This past week, Suzuki was in Calgary and he contacted the Flames about arranging a breakfast meeting with the hockey-playing activist, whom Flames star Jarome Iginla jokingly referred to as the "toughest hippy around."

Ference jumped at the chance.

"He was my vote for greatest Canadian and I have huge admiration for him and what he's done," Ference said. "I was excited when I found out he called the team.

"He lived up to every expectation I had. The cool thing is you go in with preconceived notions of what a guy's going to be like when you meet him and it's a pleasant surprise when they live up to it."

Ference talked with Suzuki, a member of the Order of Canada, about a variety of subjects, from his tireless work as an environmentalist to the time he spent in an internment camp during the Second World War.

"It was just a flowing conversation while sitting for breakfast. It was great," Ference said. "Now, when we go to Vancouver, he's invited us to go to the foundation to check out the daily operations there."

Turns out Suzuki also checked into Ference's life.

"Yeah, he knew I'd scored a goal the night before. He did his homework," Ference relayed.

Ference's work for the environment isn't just lip service. On top of making hybrid vehicles the transportation of choice for he and his wife, he's chosen to use Enmax's wind power for electricity in his home and buys groceries from farmers' markets.

"People don't realize how far food travels," he said. "To buy local at a farmers' market is probably the best thing you can do for the environment because a cabbage doesn't have to travel 4,000 miles."

Now, Ference is spreading word about the David Suzuki Foundation's Nature Challenge (www.davidsuzuki.org/

NatureChallenge/).

"It's 10 steps. You can do little things that add up when a lot of people do them," Ference said. "I'm fairly adamant about being better to the Earth. We talk about it a lot in the room. I'm not trying to convert guys or trying to make them into hippies but it's being aware and doing little things.

"You can set goals to be a better hockey player and you can set goals to be a better human being. Now, being a father, I'm thinking about the world I'm going to leave for her."

But the environement isn't the lone subject on Ference's plate. Last night, he was one of the hosts of the Right To Play Skate at the Olympic Oval, a fundraiser to help promote sport to children around the world.

He's also part of the NHL's marketing committee, a joint venture between the league, management and players to enhance and promote the league.

"The sport I'm in, the NHL, needs to grow and needs player input," he explained. "I feel you can't sit in the background and chirp, saying 'It shouldn't be done this way, it should be done that way,' and never back it up. By getting involved, going to meetings and being educated, it feels I have the right to voice my opinion and say, 'Let's try taking it this direction.' "


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