African American history month Day three: Capitals’ Joel Ward

  • Michael Prosser

Joel Ward, seen here with former teammate Jordan Tootoo, celebrate one of Ward’s 6 goals in the 2011 Playoffs (courtesy of the Prince Edward Island Guardian)

December the 2nd of 1980 became a big day in the Ward household in North York, Ontario for Cecilia and Randal Ward, for their lives were changed forever on that day as baby Joel Randal Ward was brought into this world. 31 years later, that same boy from North York would impact the sport of hockey in Washington DC forever. But I’m getting ahead of myself; lets take a step back a bit.

It was in 2006 that Joel Ward, the son of a Barbados immigrant, garnered his second invite to an NHL camp, this time with the Minnesota Wild. After a four year stint with the Owen Sound Platters (now Owen Sound Attack) of the OHL and a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings, Wards was given a second chance at his dream, and he became one step closer, earning a two-way contract with the team. Joining the Wild’s AHL affiliate Houston Aeros, Ward scratched, clawed, and worked his way up to the big time, playing in 11 NHL games during the ’06-’07 season, but his thirst for the big time was unquenchable; that is until 2008.

It was then that Ward signed a one year contract with the Nashville Predators, a team that would help build Ward

Ward as a member of the Nashville Predators (Courtesy of Hockey’s Future)

into the player that he is today. In Ward’s first full NHL season, he scored 17 goals and became not only an underrated offensive weapon, but a solid defensive forward, a statement that still stands to this day. His play during the ’08-’09 season earned him a two-year contract to stay in Nashville. Ward was the driving force in the 2011 playoffs scoring 13 points, however with free agency looming, and the Predators exiting early from the Playoffs, the Hockey Gods blessed the Washington Capitals, and Joel Ward.

I was sitting in my room on July 11th, 2011 when I heard the news that general manager George McPhee had inked Ward to a four year contract. Having just woken up from the night before’s shift, I was excited knowing that McPhee was not only bringing in defense, but a secondary option in scoring for the playoffs. But lets fast forward to 2012 and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It had been a rocky season for the Capitals; having just lost their coach (Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau) and their offensive style of play, it seemed like an early exit from the Playoffs was inevitable, especially playing the defending

Ward, seen here, celebrating after his series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins (courtesy of Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. But on April 25th, 2012 the city of Washington, and the rest of the world, was finally formally introduced to Joel Randal Ward.

I was laying in my now ex-girlfriend’s bed watching the game with her (or her watching with me actually) and yes my geeky self was also listing to the radio broadcast on the trusty Capitals app for the iPhone with John Walton making the call. I listened to John Walton call plenty of games, but little did I know that on this night, Walton’s call would be etched in Capitals lore as Ward scored the series winning overtime goal and I couldn’t help but jump for joy and shout as my now ex looked at me like I was an idiot like she always did when we’d score a big goal…but I digress. But in the aftermath, Ward was on receiving end of racial tweets, but nothing stopped Joel Ward; it only made him stronger!

And it’s because of that strength, that extra edge, the will to continue, and the will to carry on that Joel Ward has become a likable figure in not only the cities of Houston, Nashville, and Washington DC, but in the United States and the provinces of Canada. He already has a new career high in goals this season with 19 (after two today against the Red Wings) and chipped in his first career Hat Trick against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 7-0 win. You haven’t seen the last of this 34-year old winger from North York, Ontario; not one bit!

 

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Michael Prosser

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