How are you celebrated after scoring the winning goal in overtime of a seventh and decisive game? Right winger Joel Ward found out just moments after helping the Washington Capitals upset defending champions Boston Bruins in the first round of the National Hockey League (NHL) play-offs late in April.
The Scarborough resident’s finest moment on the ice was ruined by some ignorant fans who posted racist comments on Twitter. The son of Barbadian parents, Ward said he was not fazed by the derogatory remarks.
“For me, I brush them off because I believe there will always be racism,” he said. “Some people will always be cruel like that. I know it’s 2012 and we try not to go that route, but it is what it is. I think it was a good eye-opener for my teammates. I was just out there trying to help my team win by scoring a goal and the next thing you know I am castigated for doing that because of my skin colour.”
Ward said this was the first time he has been subjected to racist remarks during his six years in the NHL.
“The league has done a good job when it comes to making people aware that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable,” he said. “But there are some people out there who will say cruel things sometimes and you can’t control that.”
Though he has been playing organized hockey since the age of six, the 31-year-old Ward did not make his NHL debut until 2006. Passed over by every NHL team in the draft, he was cut by the Atlanta Thrashers, the Detroit Red Wings – twice – and the Minnesota Wild after free agent tryouts. He spent three seasons with the Nashville Predators before signing a four-year $12 million contract with Washington in July 2011 after becoming a free agent.
Ward said he enjoyed his first season with the Capitals which lost in the second round to the New York Rangers.
“I had to adjust to new surroundings and new players, but I had a good time,” he said. “I had a couple of big moments in the play-offs and we were just one game short of advancing. I am looking forward to next season and playing for a new coach, but I am sure things will work out well. I am just going to continue to work hard and do my best.”
Ward and his teammates played for two coaches in 2011-12 after Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau 22 games into the season. Hunter stepped down last month to return to the junior team he owns with his family in London.
The University of Prince Edward Island graduate was raised by his mother – Cecilia Ward – after his father, Randall, collapsed in the stands while watching his son play a game in December 1994. The family patriarch succumbed to a blood clot in the brain two days later in hospital.
Ward said he is indebted to his parents for the support they provided him to pursue the sport he loves.
“My dad put in the time and resources to make my hockey career happen,” said Ward. “He took me to practices and tournaments and my mom was always there supporting him. You take these things for granted when you are young but I can now appreciate what they did…I recall my dad telling his workmates and his friends that I was going to play in the NHL and they would laugh him off. He believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Ward, who has a sociology degree, is spending the off-season in Scarborough.
“The off-season goes by quickly but I am here doing some quality time with family and friends and I will train downtown for the first time and participate in charity events during the summer,” said Ward.
By RON FANFAIR