Andrew Ference’s knowledge of Belfast amounts to little more than what he has found out through the Internet.
The Boston Bruins defenceman and his team-mates will arrive in Northern Ireland later this week for arguably the most eagerly anticipated game of ice hockey ever played in the country — the 2002 Challenge Cup final or Theo Fleury’s debut for the Belfast Giants in 2005 might be up for debate.
When sportsmen travel the globe they rarely get to see much more than the inside of a hotel room, a bus and the venue where they play.
Ference has bigger plans for his trip to Belfast though. He’ll be heading out of the team hotel — and not just to the Odyssey Arena — to add to what he has picked up on-line about the city.
“I first heard about the possibility of a game in Belfast at the end of last season,” said 31-year-old Ference, who has played almost 650 games in an NHL career which spans more than a decade.
“I didn’t know much about the place and I knew nothing about the team, so I did what everyone does, I Google searched to find out a little bit about the history of the place and it’s very interesting.
“We’re only going to be there for a short time, but I’d like to see some of the city and I’m going to try to take one of the black taxi rides to see the famous murals and other things.
“There are a few history buffs on the team and I am sure they’ll like it. I just want to make the most of the time that I have there, although it will be short.”
One of Ference’s team-mates has a much greater knowledge of Belfast and Northern Ireland.
For Shawn Thornton coming to face the Belfast Giants — although the team is beefed up with top players from across the Elite League — is a pilgrimage.
His mother Catherine was born in Belfast and so excited is Shawn about the trip that he is bringing mum with him.
“Shawn has a lot of family coming to the game, he has been asking the other guys for their spare tickets,” revealed Ference.
“His mother is coming too. She hasn’t been back in Belfast since
she was a little girl, but Shawn has bought here a ticket and she was really excited when he told her.
“He’ll be trying to be very dynamic and be all over the ice trying to impress.
“I know from talking to some of our fans that there are quite a few who are making the trip and they are very excited about it as am I.”
Belfast Giants players make up a third of the All Start team that will face the Bruins, with eight of Doug Christiansen’s squad named in the 23-man panel.
Mike Hoffman’s blistering start to the season, with six goals in eight games, has earned him a place in the line-up, with defenceman Tim Cook joining him.
ELITE LEAGUE ALL STAR TEAM: Goaltenders: Stephen Murphy (Belfast Giants), Craig Kowalski (Nottingham Panthers), Ervins Mustukovs (Sheffield Steelers). Defencemen: Jon Gleed (Belfast Giants), Rich Seeley (Belfast Giants), Corey Neilson (Nottingham Panthers), Jonathan Zion (Nottingham Panthers), Jonathan Weaver (Coventry Blaze), Tim Cook (Belfast Giants), Jeramie Domish (Sheffield Steelers). Forwards: Colin Shields (Belfast Giants), Colin Hemingway (Belfast Giants), Dan Carlson (Coventry Blaze), Ben Simon (Sheffield Steelers), Scott Matzka (Cardiff Devils), Luke Fulgham (Coventry Blaze), Jade Galbraith (Nottingham Panthers), Ashley Tait (Sheffield Steelers), Owen Fussey (Coventry Blaze), Rob Globke (Sheffield Steelers), Josh Prudden (Belfast Giants), David Beauregard (Nottingham Panthers), Mike Hoffman (Belfast Giants).