BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
Joel Ward’s journey to the National Hockey League wasn’t the usual route, but for him it has worked out just fine.
After playing for Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Ward’s experience at the Detroit Red Wings’ prospect camp didn’t go as planned, so he decided to head home to attend the University of Prince Edward Island (U.P.E.I.).
“School wasn’t the right fit for me,” Ward said.
The North York, Ont. native spoke with the university’s hockey coach Doug Currie and former junior teammate and U.P.E.I. defenseman Adam Campbell, further solidifying his decision to attend college.
While the 6’1”, 226-pound winger received significant playing time “right out of the gate,” improving his game wasn’t Ward’s only goal. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology, which he’s still “very proud of.”
Once Ward finished college, he again focused strictly on his hockey career.
“I always had the dream of playing in the National Hockey League as a kid,” said Ward. I figured I could finish my degree, finish my four years and then concentrate on playing pro hockey.”
Ward’s choices continued to pay off as he joined the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros.
“If I got to the American League level I’d say that the sky was the limit from there,” said Ward. “Once I got there and realized I could do this for a full-time living, things just started snowballing and settling into place.”
Ward eventually realized his dream of making it to the NHL, signing deals with Minnesota and Nashville, where he appeared in 241 NHL games, posting 99 points (40 goals, 59 assists) and 89 penalty minutes (PIM). He’s also been in 18 career post-season games with the Predators, collecting 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and eight PIM.
Then during the offseason, Ward signed a four-year contract on July 1st with the Capitals. It’s now the defensive-minded forward’s chance to bring his talents to Washington.
“I’m excited to don the red jerseys,” said Ward. “I’m excited to be part of Caps fever.”
Choosing to come to D.C. may not have been the first difficult decision of his career, but he hopes it’ll pan out like the rest of the choices he’s made during his journey.