Former Capitals forward Joel Ward took to the Players’ Tribune to announce his retirement on Monday.
Ward played 726 NHL games with four different teams, including the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, and San Jose Sharks.
In 2019, Ward said he considered himself retired at an alumni day event but later clarified through a source then that it wasn’t official.
“I’m retiring today,” Ward wrote. “I know I didn’t play the last two years, but I tried. I did. I wish I could have gone out in a bit of a different way. But, you know, just thinking about it all — all 726 games — I realized something. Who am I to wish for any more time? I got what I wanted. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
He added, “Hockey is a beautiful game, and it works in mysterious ways. Some players, they end on a perfect high, some have it taken from them. But me, I kind of thought it was fitting that I went out the way I came in — without anybody really noticing.”
Ward decided to retire after his one-year-old son Robinson got to see him play in a Sharks’ alumni game.
A late bloomer in a hockey sense, Ward was never drafted in the NHL. He instead carved out an improbable path to the world’s grandest stage that began in junior hockey.
Ward played four seasons with the OHL’s Owen Sound Platers. In Ward’s final season eligible (2000-01) he had 62 points in 67 games, including a career-high 26 goals. Ward would later join the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the West Coast Hockey League to finish the season.
An unsigned free agent, Ward earned a professional try out with the Detroit Red Wings and fought for a spot during their during training camp in 2001-02, but ultimately was recruited and played collegiately for the University of Prince Edward Island for four seasons. Ward won rookie of the year and was named the PEI Panthers’ team MVP three different seasons. Ward averaged over a point-per-game every season and was dominant his senior year, tallying 44 points in 28 games.
Ward earned another NHL try out in 2006, with the Minnesota Wild, and this time he stuck. Ward was signed by the organization and spent the entire season with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, scoring eight goals and tallying 14 assists in 66 games.
Impressed by Ward’s work ethic, the Wild signed the North York, Ontario native to a two-year deal, and Ward continued developing as a two-way player in the AHL.
Ward would sign a one-year deal with the Nashville Predators in July 2008 and became a full-time NHL player for the first time. He responded by having one of his biggest seasons pro, scoring 17 goals and tallying 18 assists. And the rest is history.
Ward broke out in the 2010-11 playoffs, scoring seven goals in 12 Predators playoff games. The Capitals awarded the two-way forward a four-year, $12 million deal.
Regular season Joel Ward: .183 goals per game, .418 points per game
Playoff Joel Ward: .265 goals per game, .626 points per game.
He always found another level in the spring. https://t.co/ToZDTsTa0M
— Steve "Dangle" Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) April 27, 2020
Ward finishes his career with 133 goals and 177 assists. Caps fans most remember Joel for his humor, that one time getting locked in a bathroom, and his charity work, especially with Fort Dupont Cannons. Ward, who wore number 42 in DC in honor of Jackie Robinson, set his career-high in goals (24) and points (49) with Washington during the 2013-14 season.
“I was kind of thinking, when our equipment guy, Brock (Myles), called me and said ‘Hey, what number are you thinking [about wearing]?’ I just kind of took a moment to think about things,” Ward, who wore 29 previously, explained. “I had just finished the (Robinson) biography at that time, and I said ‘Hey, you know what? Let me see if this is available.’ I asked about [No. 42] and, sure enough, it was.”
Ward is also behind one of the most important playoff goals in Capitals history, as his 2012 strike in overtime downed the defending champion Boston Bruins in seven games. One could argue that his goal was not topped until the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Ward was subject to racist taunts after the game by Bruins fans.
“I was a little shocked, but deep down inside, I’m a black player playing a white man’s game,” Ward said. “I kind of know what I’ve signed up for all these years.
“I ended up scoring a goal that everybody else I was trying to do and somehow it became a negative spin because of the color of my skin. A lot of guys, it was an eye-opener, to show that it does happen. This is part of the struggles of being a black guy growing up and it’s unfortunate to see it still goes on.”
Ward also scored one of the most improbable last-second goals in team history against the New York Rangers in Game One of 2015 playoffs.
In February, Joel returned to Washington to hold a street hockey clinic with the Cannons.
“It feels like home,” Ward said. “I’m just happy to be back in DC, it brings back a lot of memories from my playing days here, just seeing a lot of familiar faces.”
The next day, Ward was honored at Capital One Arena and dropped the ceremonial first puck between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as part of the Capitals’ Black History Night.
He also read the starting lineups before the game.
Joel retires as one as the hardest-working wingers of his era, battling through numerous levels of hockey to not only achieve his dream of playing in the NHL but to be a truly effective, great piece on the teams he was a part of. We wish Joel nothing but the best and hope that there are no locked bathroom stalls in retirement.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 27, 2020
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