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Ward: Retirement of O'Ree's number a 'no-brainer'

Ward: Retirement of O'Ree's number a 'no-brainer'

It is not Joel Ward’s nature to use his first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as a civil rights platform. That’s not who he is or what he’s about.

But when’s Joe McDonald asked Ward over the weekend if he believes the NHL should consider retiring Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 in recognition of him breaking the league’s color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, he was quick to jump on board with the idea.

"That's something to definitely talk about for sure,” said Ward, who upon becoming a member of the Capitals in 2011 requested to wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. “It would be great if they did. … With the amount of respect Willie has around the league, it would definitely be something special if that did come up."

Currently, there is only one jersey number retired by every team in the NHL – Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99.


O’Ree, 80, played in only 45 NHL games with the Boston Bruins (two games in 1957-58 and 43 games in 1960-61), but he paved the way for other black players to follow.  

“It's a no-brainer,” said Ward, whose San Jose Sharks will face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today.”

O’Ree has been an ambassador for the NHL for several years. In April he visited Washington to attend a private screening of the movie “Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future,” and spoke passionately about the racism he faced as a young player who hid from the Bruins organization that he was blind in one eye.

“I was faced with racism, bigotry, prejudice and ignorance and discrimination,” O’Ree recently told a group of students at the Anti-Defamation League Youth Congress in Boston.

“Every time I went to the ice I was faced with racial slurs because of my color and my brother taught me names will never hurt you unless you let them. I had black cats thrown on the ice and told to go back to the cotton fields and pick cotton.”

Ward, 35, faced a different kind of racism after he scored the series-clinching goal for the Capitals in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the hours after netting the overtime goal in Game 7 in Boston, Bruins fans tweeted racist remarks about Ward, whose parents were born in Barbados and raised their three sons in the Scarborough neighborhood of Toronto.

“I don't let it bother me at all,” Ward told reporters after the incident in Boston. “It's a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments, and what can you do? I know what I signed up for. I'm a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It's just going to come with the territory. I'd feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn't exist. It's a battle I think will always be there.”

While he was a member of the Capitals, Ward was invited to throw out the first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day at Nats Park, telling the Washington Times about his deep appreciation and respect for what Robinson faced nearly 70 years ago.

“I always question myself whether would I ever be strong enough to go through something like that,” Ward said. “And the fact that he excelled hitting over .300 and knowing that he could be shot at any minute, every time he stepped up to the plate. He just seemed to tune that out in some miraculous way, so for somebody to pave the way like that and open doors for guys like myself is unbelievable."

It took Major League Baseball 50 years after Robinson’s first game to retire his No. 42 forever.  It’s been more than 58 years since O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier and Ward believes it’s time to at least start a similar discussion to honor the man whom many describe as the Jackie Robinson of hockey.


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3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

The Washington Capitals had not beaten the Dallas Stars at home since 2006, Alex Ovechkin's second season in the NHL. That streak ended on Tuesday in a 4-3 Caps win.

Here's how the Caps were finally able to down Dallas in Washington.

Oshie still hot

After going 19 straight games without a goal, T.J. Oshie has been red-hot of late with four goals in his last four games. He scored Washington’s first goal in what would become a three-goal period for the Caps as they battled back from a 1-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie through 40 minutes. Oshie also added an assist as he won a power play faceoff that John Carlson fed to Alex Ovechkin for the goal.


Ovechkin victimizing his favorite target

You knew Ovechkin would score given he was playing against one of his favorite targets. With his second period goal, Ovechkin now has 22 goals against Kari Lehtonen in his career, tied with Henrik Lundqvist for the most goals he has scored on any netminder. Lehtonen has not been in the Eastern Conference since the 2008-09 season. When he goes to sleep at night, Ovechkin is who he sees in his nightmares.

The Carlson-Klingberg duel

Carlson and John Klingberg entered Tuesday’s game each with 59 points, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. Carlson downplayed the matchup both before and after the game, but it was clear that both players were playing at another level all game long. While both players tallied two points on the night, you have to give the win to Carlson as he had the most significant point, a game-winning goal in the third period.


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Tarik's 3 Stars: Ovechkin further cements his place in history

Tarik's 3 Stars: Ovechkin further cements his place in history

Alex Ovechkin further cemented his place in NHL history, John Carlson stayed hot and Braden Holtby was good when called upon as the Caps downed the Stars, 4-3, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.

The victory was Washington’s fifth in the past six games. It also marked the Caps’ first win over Dallas in D.C. since 2006.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Ovechkin scored his 44th goal of the season and the 602nd of his career in the second period to give the Caps a short-lived 3-2 edge in the second period.

The goal put Ovi back atop the league as he seeks a seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. It also pushed him past Jari Karri and into sole possession of 19th place on the NHL’s all-time list. Ovechkin has now victimized Kari Lehtonen 22 times, which is tied for the most goals he’s scored against a single netminder. (Henrik Lundqvist has also given up 22 goals to No. 8). Ovi also had a couple of secondary helpers.

2-John Carlson, Capitals

Carlson scored the game-winner 4:59 with left to play, blasting a one-timer past Lehtonen to put the Caps ahead 4-3.

Carlson also notched an assist, which allowed him to stay even with Dallas’ John Klingberg. Klingberg had two assists. Both players ended the game with 61 points—tied for the most among all NHL defensemen.    

3-Alexander Radulov, Stars

From his first shift, it was apparent that Radulov was determined to leave his mark on the game. And he did just that, recording a goal, an assist and boarding minor that bloodied Caps defenseman Michal Kempny. Radulov’s goal—a redirection of a John Klingberg shot—was his 26th and it evened the score, 2-2, in the second period.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.