Joel Ward had a very simple goal for his hockey career. He was selected in the 15th round of the OHL draft, went undrafted by the NHL, played four years of junior hockey followed by another four years at the University of Prince Edward Island. He knew his prospects for an NHL career weren't great. All he wanted was just one game. When he announced his retirement on Monday, he had played in 726.
Ward defied the odds at every step of the way during his NHL career, a career that saw him score 133 goals and 171 assists, become teammates with all-time greats like Alex Ovechkin and Joe Thornton and even score a Game 7 overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"For me it's unbelievable," Ward said on a conference call Monday. "I just wanted to play one hockey game and then the fact that I got a chance to play with a lot of great hockey players, Ovi, Jumbo, I got a chance to be around some world class guys, I was around Shea Weber in my time there and Pekka Rinne, a lot of great guys in Nashville. It's kind of so surreal to me. I was just hoping to get a chance to be out there at some point and realize that when you're on the ice at the same time as all these guys and to be teammates and friends with them, I never thought about that growing up."
Ultimately 276 of Ward's 726 games were played with the Capitals. In describing his favorite moments with the team, Ward of course mentioned his Game 7 overtime goal against the Boston Bruins that advanced Washington in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also cited his interaction with Fort Dupont.
"I love the coach, Neil Henderson, and also just coming to the rink and interacting with the people that worked at the rink," Ward said. "That was one that I really enjoyed of just chatting with the people that were down at the games at the rink that were kind of excited to see me be out there. I think that was what I really took away from it was my bonding time with them."
Considering how Ward was able to bond with people over hockey, it should then come as no surprise that he hopes to stay involved in the game now that his playing career is over.
"Over the years I've had such great teachers, coaches," he said. "I think I've learned so much over the years, it would be a shame if I just kind of kept all that information to my self and not share."
Though he has no official plans for what capacity he may continue his involvement in the game, Ward did say he has had talks with the San Jose Sharks and that he would like to stay in California.
Whatever it is that Ward may aspire to do now that his playing career is over, chances are he will get there at some point. He proved through his career that he is the type of guy you should never bet against.
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