RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward looked refreshed after facing a number of shots during an informal skating session at Raleigh Center Ice on Friday.
He skated throughout the week along with many returning teammates, the total number of which kept growing by the day.
As he shed his equipment and prepared a protein shake before heading to the weight room, Ward was upbeat and looked refreshed.
“I feel real good,” he said.
“I feel real excited to get things goin’ again, starting off with a fresh start and getting back out.”
Some might think that he would be more serious, maybe even more concerned, after playing through another injury-riddled season that left him out of 23 games.
Playing his ninth professional season in 2013-2014, Ward played in 30 total games, 28 of which he started, and finished with a 10-12 record with six overtime decisions to go along with a 3.06 goals-against-average (GAA) and .898 save percentage (SV).
They weren’t stellar numbers by his career standards, but in recent years, they went along with the continued struggles he’s faced in dealing with injuries and resultant inconsistent play.
Ward was not able to secure more wins for a team that ended up missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
Those factors continued to shed the confidence that many following the team once had in him to be the number one goaltender.
Then the rumors of him being offered in trade talks started to surface more frequently as backup goaltender Anton Khudobin managed to win games and take his place atop the Hurricanes goaltending chart with his 19-14 record and 2.30 GAA and .926 SV.
With all of the negative energy swirling around the team at the end of last season, questioning Ward’s and even captain Eric Staal’s worth, another long summer without postseason play hasn’t reduced the question of whether Ward and the Hurricanes can play any better to make the playoffs.
That’s why he’s returned early, as he has done in the past, to prepare himself to prove that he still belongs with the Hurricanes.
His mindset is no different this year than it has been previously – to work hard and to be part of a winning team.
“I think the message is to come prepared and come ready to compete on a daily basis,” Ward said.
“We believe we have a strong group here, a strong foundation, and we need to bring that consistency night in and night out. That begins with myself. Obviously, these last couple of years have been a disappointment in my eyes. I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give and I’ve done everything I can this summer to prepare myself to play to my potential. What’s happened in the past has happened. As much as I’d like to change things the way they’ve gone the last couple of years, I can’t. What I can do is change the way that I control my mental state and physically coming into this year I feel fresh and I feel excited.”
As Ward pointed out, the past is in the past, and that must include triumphs as well as shortcomings.
Yes, he helped to win a Stanley Cup for Carolina and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy early in his career, and no one can yet push him from his spots atop the Hurricanes’ all-time lists for games (461) and minutes played (26,296), total career wins (224) and shutouts (21).
However, Khudobin’s play allowed reality to set in and that holding on for Ward to match his previous levels of performance may have passed him by as he turned 30.
However, looking at him, Ward’s youthful looks and mindset to persevere keep many hanging on for him to get back to where he’s been before – to help Carolina compete for another Cup.
He is a competitor and you want nothing less in attitude from your goalie.
With new head coach Bill Peters and his coaching staff in place, along with a fresh look from the management offices with new executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis and his group in place, Ward is the first to say that he truly feels good about the upcoming season.
While growing up and playing his minor and junior hockey in Western Canada, specifically in Alberta with Sherwood Park and then with the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, you wonder if he has any inside track on Peters who hails from the same province and cut his coaching teeth in the WHL.
The two haven’t had any previous direct contact or relationship according to Ward, but he feels he understands the type of person the new head coach is and what he will expect from him and his teammates.
“I can’t speak too much about it because obviously I’m still learning about him,” Ward said.
“I’ve only spoken to him on the phone, three or four times, and what I’ve gathered from that short amount of time that I’ve talked to him, he’s a straight shooter. He’s honest and he’s gonna’ make sure that everyone’s prepared and held accountable. I think that’s all you need out of your coach and I believe we’ll have a strong foundation and a strong structure. Then it’s up to the players to make sure that we can get on point and execute.”
By stating it as succinctly and as simply as he did, Ward was sincere and looked prepared to put the effort forward to prove that he belongs in Carolina and to help the team become a winner again.