Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Predators' Ward stepping up

Categories: Nashville Predators, Second Round, VAN vs. NSH, Vancouver Canucks

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Joel Ward (29) celebrates with Shea Weber (6) of the Nashville Predators after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period in Game 5 on Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. (Rich Lam/Getty Images) Joel Ward (29) celebrates with Shea Weber (6) of the Nashville Predators after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period in Game 5 on Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)
By Tim Wharnsby

Down, but not out. That could be the Predators mantra this season. Here's a team that lost Matthew Lombardi, their top centre, to a concussion early in the second game of the season. In the playoffs, they lost veteran Steve Sullivan with a lower-body injury in Game 3 and forward Jerred Smithson joined him on the sidelines with an upper-body injury two nights later.

But they push on. Somebody steps up. Somebody, like the unheralded 30-year-old Joel Ward. His inspiring, feel-good story has been told many times. But it is a tale worth repeating after his special Saturday night against the Canucks, a two-goal, one-assist performance in the Predators 4-3 victory to force a sixth game.

The Detroit Red Wings probably regret not signing Ward in 2001, when they invited him to a tryout after four years of junior with the Owen Sound Attack didn't result in a pro contract.
There wasn't a spot in the Red Wings organization either, so he went to Charlottetown to attend the University of Prince Edward Island. Four years and a sociology degree later, the Minnesota Wild called. But after three years in the minors and only 11 games with the Wild, he moved on again.
This time the Predators came signed him in 2008. He finally found a home in the NHL. Ward is a dependable two-way forward who excels in the postseason. He scored twice and assisted on two others in six playoff games for the Predators last spring, and now has seven goals and 12 points in 11 games in this incredible run.

"I'm just having fun," said the right wing, eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. "I come to the rink with a smile on my face and try not to put too much emphasis on the games."

Ward lost his father Randall when he was 14 years old. Dad was watching his son play a minor hockey game in Toronto at the venerable St. Michael's College Arena and suffered a stroke. He passed away a few days later.

There have been many, including the Minard family in Owen Sound who billeted Ward while he was there and helped Ward carry on. They have watched every Predators playoff game on television as has Ward's loving mother Cecilia back in Toronto.

While Ward's playoff heroics are no surprise to them, he keeps surprising others and that's what has kept him going all these years?

"I love the game," he said. "I've never given up on the dream.