Joel Ward Shows Why He Adds Character To San Jose Sharks

Life has knocked Joel Ward down, but his ability to handle adversity was key for the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Life has knocked Joel Ward down, but his ability to handle adversity was key for the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

Joel Ward recently wrote a piece that shows how a difficult youth helped build character that is now the cornerstone of his game…

The Player’s Tribune featured a piece from Joel Ward Monday, July 25. The veteran forward showed why he had the character that was such an asset for the Stanley Cup finals run of the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks.

A 14-year old Ward saw a commotion near his parents in the stands during a game but got on the ice for his next shift. He found out after the game that his father had a stroke, and Randal died days later.

Ward says hockey saved him. It was a refuge even on the day of his father’s funeral.

Randal Ward was from Barbados but fell in love with the game after immigrating to a Toronto suburb and instilled that love in his son. He also believed in Joel, “we’d be at the rink and he’d tell all of his friends I was going to make it to the NHL one day.”

It was not an easy journey for Ward. As a child, he had to rely on others for transportation and other things at times while playing with cheaper sticks. He recalled a father of one friend paying for two aluminum sticks he had been admiring: “They cost about $200 each,” he noted. “That was a gesture I’ll never forget.”

Undrafted, Ward had to scrap his way through college and eventually the AHL before finding his first NHL home with the Nashville Predators nearly half a life after his father died in 2008. (He had played 11 games with the Minnesota Wild two years earlier.) “It turned out my dad was right—I was cut out for the NHL.”

Ward said he thinks about his father every day and has never stopped missing him. He carries on the help he got in his time of need to others through programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

That kind of character immediately endeared Ward to his new teammates in San Jose. It was the depth that he and Joonas Donskoi provided that was the primary difference at forward from the 2014-15 NHL season—the first this team missed the Stanley Cup playoffs under general manager Doug Wilson.

Related Story: Joonas Donskoi Rookie Season Shows Bright Future

Ward scored more goals (21) and assists (22) than any season since 2013-14 despite being 35 years old. Then as he often does, he played big in the postseason with seven goals and six assists over 24 games.

Only once in his career has he not had over a point every two games of a Stanley Cup playoff. Ward has 21 goals and 27 assists over 77 career postseason games despite spending most of that time on a checking line.

Maybe it is because the adversity of the Stanley Cup playoffs pales in comparison with what he faced growing up. Maybe it is because he has the quiet confidence instilled by his father. Either way—through life and death—Randal left more than a name as a legacy for Ward to build a successful NHL career on…just as he had always envisioned for his son.