Ference/By S. Bradley

While one of the NHL’s premier players continues to delay his decision on which team he’ll let pay him upwards of $100 million for the next decade or longer, a key Bruins performer took time today to do something much more meaningful.

Bruins defenseman and devoted environmentalist Andrew Ference and his wife Krista joined a group of athletes and representatives of the Sierra Club on a visit to areas in Louisiana affected by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The group, which also included former NHL star Mike Richter, former NFL running back Mike Alstott, and others, met about an hour outside of New Orleans and took five boats out to see the impact the oil spill has had, as far as 90 miles from where the explosion took place more than two months ago. The boats were driven by fishermen who have now been reduced to just taking groups of environmentalists, media members and biologists out on the water now they they’re usual line of work has been destroyed.

Ference said that the smell of the oil was strong and the grass and birds were all covered in oil.

“So we’re just trying to wrap our heads around it,” Ference told TheBruinsBlog.net just after the boat trip ended. “From one horizon to the next, it’s all water and it’s all oil, and everywhere you look it’s oil. You’re that far away from the rig, and you hear about it being in Florida. So we’re just trying to wrap our heads around it a bit.”

Beyond the environmental impact, there is also the human element of this disaster, which has taken its toll on people in all walks of life. Ference, who said he’s recovering well from offseason hernia/groin surgery, and the athletes took time to interact with some of those folks in order to gain more insight into their situations.

“There is something about seeing it firsthand. But the most powerful thing is actually the human element of actually meeting people,” said Ference. “Lives are thrown upside down and to talk to those people, that’s who you can relate to the most, another human being who’s completely being thrown through a loop. They could’ve done everything right for their entire lives. But something like this happens, it’s completely out of their control, and there’s no end in sight. You feel horrible for these people.

“Everyone’s been affected differently. But, man, it’s just a domino effect through the whole city and the whole area how people are affected in different ways.

“You admire their resilience. But you can’t help but feel that they’ve been tremendously let down by something that probably didn’t have to happen.”

Ference has been active with environmental causes for years now. Always an outspoken critic of “big oil” and a proponent of green initiatives, Ference is always adamant about being more than just an athlete that uses celebrity to speak about a cause but then doesn’t take any action. This visit, and the interaction with other like-minded athletes and the Sierra Club, should start Ference on a path that leads him to help out the victims of the Gulf disaster.

For Ference the problems in the Gulf and other issues are about more than just the here and now, but also the future, which he hopes can be better than the present.

“First and foremost, I’m a parent and that trumps any other group I might be a part of – be it any athletes or the NHL or any other thing,” said Ference, a father of tow. “My most important affiliation is that I have kids and I want them to have a good world to grow up in.”

It’s fine to worry about the trials and tribulations of Ilya Kovalchuk until the sniper finally signs. But the actions of Ference and those other athletes in the Gulf should lend the situation a little perspective and remind us all what’s truly important.