Andrew Ference: Things I Have Learned #1

NHL Star Andrew Ference talks about accountability in his debut at the Good Men Project.

During my years playing with the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League my coach, Daryll Sutter, probably drew hundreds if not thousands of Xs and Os on the whiteboard. Every situation would be covered day in and day out until we didn’t have to think on the ice, we just reacted. I don’t remember a single one.

The thing I do remember, the lesson that took a team of average skill to within a game of winning the Stanley Cup: Be accountable to your teammates and to yourself. It is a pretty simple concept but a much more difficult thing to put into practice.

Nobody wants to think of themselves as a weak link at their job. We all have an inflated view of our importance within a group. This self-confidence can bring you success, but over the long term, I believe it really holds back our true potential. To have the ability to look your coworkers and boss in the eyes and admit your shortcomings and faults is admirable. It is a humbling experience but one that can build trust and strengthen relationships. Just try it with your spouse.

To truly take this lesson to the next level, though, you must be able to be accountable to yourself. Another coach of mine, Brent Peterson, had a simple piece of tape on a vanity mirror in our locker room. It read “Can you be proud of yourself today?” What an amazing question! It did not ask if you had won or lost, whether you scored or not , just simply if you could be proud of what you had done that day.

When there is no one else around to prove anything to, when you strip away the armor that most of us wear outside of our homes, how do you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror? If you are honest and mature enough it can be a practice that can both humble you and make you a great person in all aspects of your life. It has allowed me to regroup after tough losses, it has made me a better father and husband, and most importantly it has made me a more honest person. It is an honorable thing to admit to mistakes and vow to strive for better in the future, it earns respect from others and more importantly yourself.

Accountability is lacking in our world. Just look at nuisance lawsuits, or the finger-pointing of politicians around the globe. I am guilty myself of trying to blame a middle-fingered celebration after a goal in Montreal on a glove malfunction. In round one of the playoffs between two of the fiercest rivals in our sport, I scored a tying goal in the enemy’s building, only to have my fist pump turn into a sign language that crosses all borders. Facing the media and a possible suspension after the fact proved to be too much for my self-accountability. Self-preservation is a powerful thing… it is easier to place blame elsewhere and overlook your own responsibilities.

It is a good feeling to have your friends and family see a solid human when they look at you. Being able to stand up and answer for your words and actions will push you above the average and allow you to answer “Yes!” to the mirror more often.


Photo— Dan4th/Flickr

About Andrew Ference

Andrew Ference is an eco-warrior, dad and NHL hockey star. Follow him on twitter @ferknuckle


  1. Congratulations Andrew on your first (of many, I hope) GMP piece, from a Calgary native and Flames fan. They have not been the same since you left. We lost more than a hockey player when you were traded. Love the tape on the mirror tip. Will share it around.

  2. Sheesh… I’m a die-hard Blueshirt fan my whole life – my son’s middle name is Ranger, in fact – and even I’ve got to admit that was one thoughtful, considered and classy post. That said, I could not agree more with the above sentiments. Excellent words, eloquently spoken, sir. May you have fantastic year this upcoming season. (Just not at The Garden. LGR!)

  3. Welcome, Andrew! A simple, timely and well-done essay. I like it for what it reminds us to hold as important.

  4. Excellent! what a well written piece. Class act all the way.

  5. Mark Ellis says:

    in a recent political essay on a national website, because I was overanxious to get the story out, I got the identity and the quote of an important personage wrong. I was consequently drilled a new one very publicly, but that wasn’t the worst of it. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror until I went back to the site and apologized in the comments section. That apology stands as the last comment.

    Its not precisely analogous to your middle finger salute, but about making it right after you’ve screwed up, and this piece made me think of it. . Welcome to the GMPM

  6. Great article Andrew,

    Being a father of two myself, I feel you better expressed in just a few paragraphs a humility lesson that I have been trying to teach both my kids since they are in age to understand.

    However, I think the lesson to my kids would have been complete if you had included some kind of apologies or a trace of remorse for that incident that my son and I saw you doing that night of April at the Bell Center.

    It’s never too late to right your wrongs.

    Have a good season.

  7. Nice stuff. Fine read. On with what it means to be a man …

  8. Great article, Andrew. I’m with you on this sentiment 100%. You’ve always been among my favorite of the B’s squad, I hope to see you in Black and Gold for a long time to come.

  9. Ron Cowie says:

    I tell this to both my kids and it is important to remember the rules apply to the grown ups

  10. Tom Matlack says:

    Andrew welcome aboard my friend! We are so glad to have you.

    I like how you draw the analogy of sport to life in terms of accountability. I was not a pro like you but I did take sports seriously growing up and through college (and even now probably a little too much). In college and for a couple years afterwards I was an aspiring Olympic rower. The glamour event in rowing is the 8 person boat. The race is 2k meters and takes 6 minutes. You are facing the stern of the boat so you cannot see the other boats if they are ahead of this.

    The catch here is that no one in the boat can tell who is giving it their all and who is slacking off, in practice or in the heat of a race. Great crews, and great oarsmen, are built on trust in each other and an extremely high level of accountability. When a crew is down towards the end of a race and starts to make a move on the boat ahead you can literally see 8 rowers (and a cox) acting as one with a single mental consciousness. On the flip-side you can see boats that get crushed because there is no trust.

    My college rowing coach, who taught me more about manhood than just about anyone else, used to say that building trust is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes it takes fist fights and challenges of one by another. It isn’t always pretty. But the result is always evident. And that’s how I try to live my life, even when no one is looking.

    • Tracey Lawler says:

      Hey Tom. Niall took up rowing for Dexter this past spring. May have him pick your brain about your experience next time he visits with Seamus. Hope all is well.


  11. Great article Andrew……always been a big fan of your work on the ice and now as a writer….loved the “Can you be proud of yourself today?” and accountability part……..sharing this with my team in my old mans league to spark some life in them


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