Joel Ward may have been wearing the uniform of the Washington Capitals Wednesday night when he scored the overtime-winning goal in Game 7 of the Capitals’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinal victory over the defending Stanley Cup Boston Bruins, but there was another team almost as happy as Ward’s Capitals teammates after the puck crossed the goal line.
Ward’s former colleagues with the Nashville Predators were watching that game and when asked about it after their practice Thursday, they were all thrilled about his late-game heroics.
“That’s great,” Pekka Rinne said. “I’m so happy for him. It was great to see. That’s a huge goal for them and it couldn’t have happened for a better guy.”
During his three seasons with the Predators, Ward was one of the most liked players in the locker room. Ward took the hard road to the NHL, working harder than most to just get a chance to play the game at its highest level.
Ward played four years in juniors, and then went the unusual route of playing four years at the University of Prince Edward Island, where he earned a Sociology degree and was named his conference’s most sportsmanlike player as a senior. Ward was never drafted and toiled almost entirely in the AHL for three seasons before getting his big break in Nashville in the 2008-09 season.
He was Nashville’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2010.
It wasn’t just Ward’s former teammates who were excited about his performance Wednesday; his former head coach was as well.
“I actually texted Wardo last night,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “I knew he wouldn’t change his number, that would take too much time for him. I took my chance and texted him and he texted me back. He said, ‘Great feeling.’ He just wanted to wish everybody good luck and he said maybe we would see you down the road.”
After scoring seven goals and adding six assists in Nashville’s 12 playoff games last season, the Capitals signed Ward to a four-year, $12 million contract in the offseason. Ward struggled in his first season in Washington, posting just six goals and 12 assists in 73 games.
“I am really happy for him because I know he didn’t have the season that he was looking for,” Trotz added. “You know, you can make up for a lot of things. Wardo didn’t have a great season last year during the regular season for us, but he was huge in the playoffs. That’s Wardo’s time to shine, so I was really happy for him.”