Minor Hockey Moments: Joel Ward

 

After four seasons with the Owen Sound Attack, Joel Ward went undrafted and went on to play of the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers for another four years.<i><br /></i>

 
 
 
 
 

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After four seasons with the Owen Sound Attack, Joel Ward went undrafted and went on to play for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers for another four years. In 2005, he was signed as a free agent by the Houston Aeros and after playing 66 games in the AHL he was picked up by the Minnesota Wild. This past July, Ward signed a $500,000 one-year deal with the Nashville Predators and is among the league leaders in blocked shots this season.

Steve Sullivan had just returned from an injury that sidelined the speedy forward for almost two full seasons and as reporters gathered around the early favourite for the Bill Masterton award for comeback player of the year, Joel Ward quietly went about his business on the other side of the change room. Though returning from a career-threatening back injury is no small feat, Ward faced and overcame challenges many others have met with much less success.

After putting up good numbers in four seasons with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack/Platers Ward went undrafted, but was invited to tryout for the Minnesota Wild in 2003. Instead of going pro, Ward decided to take his game to the University of P.E.I. where he was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s 1st Team All-Canadian in 2004-2005. At the beginning of the next season, Ward was again invited to an NHL camp, this time by the Florida Panthers, but once again he was sent home. Two months later the Toronto native got his first break and was signed by the AHL’s Houston Aeros, the farm club for the Minnesota Wild. Almost three years to the day he was cut from the Wild, they signed him to his first NHL contract in September 2006. That season he spent most of his time in the AHL playing only 11 games with the big club, but Ward never took his eyes off his ultimate goal and 14 days after his contract expired with the Minnesota Wild, the Nashville Predators gave him his first legitimate shot at an NHL roster spot signing the free-agent to a one-year deal. Ward joined a short list of players who made the leap from CIS hockey to the NHL, a list that includes five-time Stanley Cup champion Randy Gregg.

Growing up in the same neighbourhood as a future NHL goaltender played a big role in the Ward being introduced to hockey at a young age. “My older brothers played and they were good friends with Kevin Weekes so I just kind of followed them around and played foot hockey during their games,” said Ward. “We also played a lot of road hockey back in the day. That’s where it all starts.”

Ward remembers honing his skills on the Pleasentview outdoor rink in North York, Ontario, and playing in the Crestview house league at Oriole Arena. “My most memorable experience was making the select team,” recalls Ward. “But I also remember the first time I was cut from that team.” Getting cut from the team was probably devastating to the young hockey player, but it surely prepared the rugged power forward for his challenging road to the NHL.

Eventually moving up to ‘AAA’ to play for the North York Canadians, Ward loved playing his home games at the storied St. Michael’s Arena, but he admits he couldn’t wait to play at Chesswood Arena, the home rink of the Toronto Red Wings. “If I played there on a Friday night I’d head straight for the bubble hockey and that car racing game, Off Road,” said Ward of the Toronto Red Wings’ home rink. “I also remember trying to tag along to my brother’s games as well even though they were kind of late.”

Though the Toronto native will certainly have some memorable NHL moments, his season as an 11-year-old will be hard to match. “I remember one year when I was in Atom ‘AA’ with the Hillcrest Summits,” said Ward of his time in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. “We won the city championships and that was the first time I’d ever won any big thing.” The only problem was that Ward’s mother didn’t like going to Cummer Arena, their home rink. “I liked it, but my mom would say it was too cold,” remembers Ward. “It didn’t have a warm area to watch the game. There was also the old Scarborough Gardens—that was pretty chilly barn of a rink.”

 
 
 
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