Ference/By S. Bradley

A season that started with Andrew Ference being rewarded for his leadership with an alternate captain’s ‘A’ he wore in home games for the first half of the season and on the road in the second half, unfolded with Ference paying back the Bruins by being as solid an all-around player as you can find considering his age, experience and pay grade.

Ference continued to be the guy most likely to jump an opponent for an egregious act against a teammate. And he stayed healthy while not losing any of his ruggedness.

More impressive, he posted his highest point total in six years and scored more goals this season than in the previous four seasons combined. Although his idea of rewarding a chain to the playoff player of the game didn’t get a chance to catch on, Ference was rarely a weak link in the Bruins’ efforts in 2011-12.

Stats

Regular season: 72GP, 6-18-24, plus-9

Playoffs: 7GP, 1-3-4, minus-2

Contract status: Signed through 2012-13 at a cap hit of $2.25 million

Regular season recap

Highlight: Just 3:01 into the third period of game in New Jersey Jan. 19, Ference scored the tying goal on a slap shot from the left point. He then drew a hooking penalty on David Clarkson that set up Nathan Horton’s game-winning power-play goal later in the stanza.

Lowlight: After the Devils game, Ference’s season took a little dip. First his shove on New York’s Ryan McDonagh Jan. 21 against the Rangers ruined a positive game (1-1-2, plus-2) for Ference and brought on a three-game suspension from the NHL. Then he returned after those three games and endured an ugly night in Carolina, as he was minus-2 in 17:19 of ice time and committed a big turnover on a Tuomo Ruutu goal in a 3-0 loss to the Hurricanes Feb. 2.

Playoff recap: Ference scored a key goal in the Bruins’ season-saving Game 6 win. His fairly to play the puck after a Patrice Bergeron faceoff win, however, led to Nicklas Backstrom’s Game 2 overtime goal. Still, considering the matchups and the tightness of the series, Ference was strong in the postseason.

Grade: A. Ference gave everything he had all season long and continued to personify the Bruins’ approach of playing tough and smart while also utilizing skill.

Carnac predicts … the arrival of prospects and possibly one veteran from outside the organization might allow Ference to play the regular season and the playoffs as one of the best third-pair defensemen in the league. Of course, his friendly cap hit could also make him trade bait if Boston’s blue line gets too crowded.