RALEIGH, N.C. – As the elder statesman with the Carolina Hurricanes, goaltender Cam Ward put the call out to the team to get on the ice.
Ward once again helped organize informal skates at Raleigh Center Ice (RCI), the team’s practice facility, over the past two weeks.
It’s a leadership role he’s assumed for a while, and one he continued this August by putting out emails to team members.
“It’s kind of on me to get the guys the ice times and make sure that everybody’s doin’ their thing,” Ward said.
A handful of skaters – Justin Williams, Jaccob Slavin, Haydn Fleury, Sergey Tolchinsky, and Valentin Zykov – pioneered the initial on-ice sessions in mid-August facilitated by former Canes forward and current Youth and Amateur Hockey coordinator Shane Willis.
The numbers grew a little bit more heading into the Labor Day weekend as Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Jake Bean, and Josh Wesley joined the group.
With more expected to join the group on the ice this week at RCI, the keeper pointed out his satisfaction with the structure that Willis has provided during informal skates.
“He’s a guy who’s been in the league before, and knows what it takes,” Ward said.
“I think our practices have been a lot sharper prior to this camp with him being out on the ice helping us out.”
For his personal preparation, Ward continued to do what he’s always done leading into a new season, but he did it all here – not traveling back to spend the summer in Canada.
While the majority, if not every team member, scattered everywhere following another missed postseason opportunity, Ward decided to stay in Raleigh to train in preparation of his 13th NHL season, all played with the Hurricanes.
It’s a move he feels was the right one, particularly in maintaining closer contact with the team’s training staff.
“Things are really good,” Ward said.
“(Strength coach) Bill Burniston has been great for me this year. I think this year I’ve put on a little more muscle mass – (got) a little bit bigger. Something to withstand a long grueling season. I’ve always been real good in the summertime to come into camp in really good shape, and the key is to try and keep in that shape throughout the season – the travel, the way that you’re playin’, how many games you’re playin’, and nutrition. I feel like for being 33, almost 34, I feel pretty good.”
With Carolina’s signing of goaltender Scott Darling back in May, the starting job which Ward earned and owned since he helped the Hurricanes win a Stanley Cup with his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance back in 2006, will now be contested.
More so than ever before.
As much as Ward’s role will alter with the younger Darling coming in, he will remain sharp and compete for his time.
“Absolutely,” Ward said emphatically.
“I’m a competitive guy and I want to be out there and win with my teammates, but at the same time pushing other players to be great too. I was at that point too when I came into the league and I was looking for that opportunity. My opportunity was in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and when you get an opportunity like that, you wanna jump on it. These guys have some open spots where they need to make that next jump and I’m more than happy to help them.”
Now wearing the skate on the other foot so-to-speak, Ward knows and has become more comfortable with where he is at in his career and the situation he will deal with.
“I’ve learned to appreciate it,” he continued.
“I mean, I’m getting towards the end. I hate to say that, but it’s realistic. I’m not in the first half of my career, I’m in the second half of my career. I think you learn to appreciate the game a lot more and the time with your teammates, and I’m gonna try to help them out.”
With that said, other than some texts, Ward hadn’t yet met Darling in person, so he will take the lead in relationship-building between the two that will begin quickly as training camp approaches.
“I’m looking forward to meeting Scott,” Ward said.
“I think we’ll be a good partnership where we can push one another. It’ll be a fun year.”