Joel Ward is just such a likeable character.
Maybe it’s the fact that the undrafted university graduate persrevered to turn himself into an NHL-regular and 20-goal scorer.
Maybe it’s the affable personality? Or maybe it’s the fact that his hockey pet name, ‘Wardo’ sounds like a crime fighting vigilante. Regardless, Joel Ward is one of the better dudes in the game. And he’s the right type of personality, grit and two-way hockey for this current incarnation for the Washington Capitals.
When Ward signed a four-year contract with the Caps in 2011, he had recently entered his third decade on this earth. His body appeared to be breaking down. It seemed a stretch to think he could last the entire length of the deal.
But like a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Ward has gotten better with age. He notched a career-high 24 goals a year ago at age 33. He’s on pace for around 20 year.
We sat down with Ward at morning skate in advance of Washington’s game against Nashville to talk nicknames, his contract, and his favorite ‘isms’ from Washington coach Barry Trotz.
Q: So I was told they call you the ‘Big Cheese.’ Why?
WARD: Hmm, I think it’s because I’m the big guy on campus, ya know.
How and why did that start?
Jay Beagle or John Carlson maybe? It was a combined effort from a few guys. I was the big guy on campus and it kind of stuck a little bit.
Did it have to do with flatulence and cutting the cheese?
No, no chance.
What’s it like having Barry Trotz back? (Trotz coached Ward for three seasons in Nashville)
It has been good, it’s good for me to have a coach I was familiar with. It has been helpful. It’s my fourth coach in four years. It’s good to have a familiar face. Some of the things have changed, but still the same guy, so it has been good.
Barry’s big comment to you was ‘Move your feet Wardo’ when he was in Nashville. Now he’s back. And you thought you had escaped …
I just saw (former assistant) Brent Peterson too. Every time I see him I think ‘move your feet.’ It’s day-to-day with me. I’m still trying to move my feet day-to-day. I just do what I’m told and get out there and try to be successful. I feel like winning cures the ‘move your feet’ comments as best you can. I feel like we’re winning, so it’s all gravy.
It’s the last year of your contract. You came to Washington four years ago. Are you still happy with that decision?
Yeah, it has been a good group of guys. We just need to turn the corner a little bit. We’ve had a hard time doing so and I think we’re finding that stride. I think we’re adjusting well. We just have to find ways to win games and we’ve been doing so. It has been a great place. It’s close to my home in Toronto so it’s easy for my family to come in and out of. We’ve had a good time.
When you were in Nashville you were involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters and have kept close with your little brother. You two still talk?
I went out to dinner with Malik last night. He’s doing well. He’s going to be turning 18 soon. He’s a big boy. I think for him, I was telling him that education is very important, and just surround yourself with good people and he has been doing a good job of adapting to his new school.
Seemed like you turned it on big time in the playoffs in your contract year last time around (2011), cementing your clutch player status…
I was shooting the puck well and getting some good rebounds in front. I was making the right plays at the right time. I think when you get out there you want to win. We made a couple of key plays. We kind of started believing in ourselves. Trying to make some confidence and make some plays.
You had the EPIX Road to the Winter Classic cameras following you around for a while. Anything you wish they added?
The people were cool as heck. They were mad cool. Once you got to know them. For me it was my first time going through it, so to have people show up one day with cameras, it was different but once you got to know them and introduce yourself, you started to feel a little bit better. There was a lot of hoopla for the month of December, but I’m happy we won the game. It’s over with, and now we have to get back to work.
How have you gotten over the racism you experienced when you scored the series-winning goal against Boston in 2012 playoffs?
I think day-to-day you see somebody else go through something regardless of what sport it is. That’s just today’s day and age with social media. You get on the internet, you do Twitter, you do all sorts of things. Half the stuff I don’t know how to use or work. That’s just part of the gig. For me it’s just trying to be a positive role model for kids and others to show that I am black playing a predominantly white sport. Hockey is for everyone. I love it. It’s a game I grew up with playing in Toronto since the age of six. It’s the sport I love. For somebody to make a few comments to me is not going to take away my dreams and hopes of playing in this league.
In some ways we’ve come so far in regards to racial understanding in hockey, but we still have so much to do…
I look at it as both – a positive and a negative. It’s also an eye opener for my teammates to realize this stuff goes on. Am I surprised? Not so much. I’m surprised at some of the stuff being said, but I’m not surprised overall that racism still exists and is still around. It was an eye opener to a lot of people that that’s what minorities and people of color go through. I was just trying to score a goal like everybody else. It just sucks to see it go that way, but I mean, that was me playing sports. There’s bigger pictures outside of hockey every day.
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