Andrew Ference will be leaving the city of Boston soon, bound for Edmonton after signing a free-agent deal with the Oilers. During seven years with the Bruins, he endeared himself to fans and made a lot of friends along the way. Among Ference's friends, an Army Ranger and a former high school hockey player who may always be linked to the now former Bruin by one simple garment.
Every team seems to have a special token that is awarded to its player of the game that night. The Boston Bruins presented their player of the game with an Army Rangers jacket during the team's run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. The jacket, which was worn by the recipient during postgame interviews and hung in his locker until a new player of the game was named, itself has a special story.
During his time in Boston, Ference had struck up a friendship with an Army Rangers staff sergeant named Lucas Carr.
According to The Republican, after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, Ference took the trophy to the Rangers' training school in Fort Benning, Ga. While there, he met many of Carr's friends and his platoon who then presented Ference with the Rangers jacket.
It wasn't until after this year's Boston Marathon that the jacket seemed to take on a new meaning.
Carr was among those running in the Boston Marathon this year. When the bombs went off, Carr had crossed the finish line just minutes earlier. He was among the first to run back and help the injured.
He had been running the race on behalf of the Boston Bruins Foundation, with proceeds raised going to the Bruins' charities. While running, Carr was wearing a yellow tank top with the Bruins' logo on it.
After a 3-0 win over Florida on April 21, the Bruins held their annual “Shirts Off Their Backs” promotion where the players give their jerseys to fans. That night, first responders to the marathon bombings were given the jerseys. Ference gave his to Carr (pictured above), while Carr handed Ference his yellow tank top. That tank top hung in Ference's locker as a reminder of Carr's bravery.
Soon after, the jacket then became the postseason's player-of-the-game award.
In May, Carr expressed his excitement that the Bruins would honor Army Rangers like that, telling the AP:
“Seeing the guys wear the jacket, I've got to tell you, I've been getting emails and Facebook messages left and right. The guys that are seeing this are in awe, they're very humbled: ‘Oh, my God, this professional hockey team is using our insignia, out there performing for us. We're their heroes.'”
After the season ended and Ference knew his days in Boston were over, he retrieved the jacket before leaving the Bruins locker room for the last time.
He could have probably brought it with him to Edmonton and kept it for himself, but he had a better idea.
Matt Brown, an avid Bruins fan, was seriously injured during a game while playing for Norwood (Mass.) High School's varsity hockey team in 2010. He was left paralyzed from the chest down.
Ever since his injury, Brown has had a strong bond with the Bruins. He's dropped the puck at games and the team's foundation has helped raise funds for Brown's recovery and care. On his website, Brown's family calls Ference among Brown's biggest supporters.
When Ference was going over who he had to see before he left Boston for Edmonton, he thought of Brown. On Thursday, Ference presented his young friend with the Army Rangers jacket.
From Boston.com's Bruins Blog:
"When I knew I wasn't going to be re-signed here and I knew I had a lot of people I wanted to say goodbye to," Ference said. "I was thinking of Matty and I admire his attitude.
"Everything the jacket represented, he's just that to a T, so I knew it would be special to him and I knew it would be special to me."
Ference contacted Brown on Wednesday to ask if he could stop by before he headed out of town. Brown suspected the former Bruin just wanted to say goodbye.
“He came in with a bag and I wasn't expecting really anything, I just wanted to see him,” Brown said. “I wanted to wish him luck and when he pulled it out I just felt all the breath leave my body. I was really shocked and really excited.”
There's a little more to why Brown was the perfect person to receive the jacket, though.
Carr, the Army Ranger who brought so much inspiration to the Bruins this postseason, also has a special connection with the jacket's final recipient.
Carr ran the 2012 Boston Marathon as well, with the Boston Bruins Foundation as the beneficiary of the money he raised, just like this year. On top of that, Carr's marathon participation had another purpose: To help raise awareness of spinal cord injuries.
He completed the 2012 race while pushing Brown all the way to the finish line. The duo was supposed to race together again in 2013, but Brown had to drop out due to illness.
In May, Carr explained that he thought there were some similarities between Rangers and hockey players.
"It's about the man beside you," he said.
Both Ference and Carr can probably consider themselves among the men who stood beside Brown, which makes the teenager such a deserving owner of that jacket.
What was once a symbol of achievement and hard work in a hockey locker room now can serve as a token of a truly special friendship.