Photo: Nick Wass/AP
On Monday, Washington Capitals alumnus Joel Ward officially announced his retirement from the NHL. In a piece written for The Players’ Tribune called “726”, Ward reflected on his years playing hockey and the special moments he was a part of through 2005-2018.
If, back then, you would have offered me just onesingle game in the league … I would have taken it and run. And I know I would have given everything I had in those 60 minutes, even if I knew there weren’t anymore after.
So when people ask me how I ended up playing 726, that’s what I tell ’em. I played every game — every single game — like it was the only one I’d ever have. That’s how I made it to this point.
And this point, right here, it’s the end.
I’m retiring today.
Ward played in the NHL with four different teams: Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Capitals, and San Jose Sharks. In his NHL career, the 39-year old played 726 games, scored 133 goals, and picked up a total of 304 points.
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.
He expressed his gratitude to his family for all of their support over the years.
My dad passed when I was 14. I’ve talked about it before, and his impact on our family lives on through hockey. He’s the reason I play, he’s the reason Mom watches. He’s the reason I made it to 726. Everything we did as a family after he left us, I felt his presence.
Ward made his NHL with the Wild on December 16, 2006.
On December 16, 2006, I was reunited with two guys I had seen in Boston at the draft — Daniel and Henrik Sedin. My first NHL game was on Hockey Night in Canada, in Vancouver for the Minnesota Wild. Jacques Lemaire gave me the chance to start, with my mom and a bunch of family in the stands. I got a shot off on Roberto Luongo that night. That’s all I really remember. It was unreal.
He signed a three-year, $9.75 million dollar deal with the San Jose Sharks in the summer of 2015. Once his contract expired, Ward attended the Montréal Canadiens training camp on a professional tryout (PTO), but Montréal released him.
Ward calls the moments, memories, and stories of 726 games “like flipping the pages of a photo album”.
There’s Coach Lemaire reading out my name in Vancouver.
There’s 2011 in Nashville, and the best crowd I’ve ever seen in my life.
There’s Ovi, with the biggest smile on his face, flying at me full speed after I scored against Boston in overtime.
There’s WARD on the back of a Team Canada jersey at the world championships in 2014.
Then there’s San Jose, and everything that place has meant to me.
That isn’t one image, really. It’s more like a feeling.
Ward in Washington
After three seasons with the Predators, he became an unrestricted free agent after the 2010-11 season and signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Capitals. Ward appeared in 276 games with the Capitals from the 2011-12 through 2014-15 seasons, registering 121 points (57 goals).
Perhaps his most memorable moment was scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to lead the Capitals to a 2-1 win in Game 7 over the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Back in February, Ward returned to Washington and participated in a street hockey clinic with local children including Fort Dupont Cannons players. He also took part in a ceremonial puck drop before the Capitals’ Black History Game on February 23.
Spend some one-on-one time with the Big Cheese in another episode of Beyond Hockey pic.twitter.com/4I5Ge94I7y
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 22, 2020
Capitals’ senior writer Mike Vogel hosted an online video chat session that featured current and former Capitals players on Friday. Ward, who was in San Jose, joined the chat and discussed a variety of topics.
Forward Tom Wilson was also in the chat and took to Twitter Monday afternoon to thank “Wardo” for being “one of the best teammates and mentor”.
— Tom Wilson (@tom_wilso) April 27, 2020
Defenseman John Carlson and team owner Ted Leonsis tweeted their appreciation for Ward and wished him well for what is yet to come.
— John Carlson (@JohnCarlson74) April 27, 2020
— Ted Leonsis (@TedLeonsis) April 27, 2020
Ward was on a conference call with the media today, according to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir. His time spent at Fort Dupont was his best off-ice memory in D.C. He had been involved in numerous practices with the Fort Dupont Cannons during his four years in Washington. On the ice, however, his favorite memory was the Game 7 overtime goal against the Bruins.
Ward, on a Zoom call with reporters, says his best off-ice memory in D.C. was all the time he got to spend at Fort Dupont. On the ice? The Game 7 OT goal vs. Boston. Obviously. #Caps
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) April 27, 2020
He has even spoken to the Sharks organization on potentially joining “in some capacity”.
Ward has said in the past that he’d like to coach someday. His underdog story, the many stops he’s made along the way and all the systems he’s played in, he feels he has a lot of experience/knowledge to share. #Caps https://t.co/WszNopAqSl
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) April 27, 2020
At the end of his story, Ward talked about his son Robinson and the importance “that if you love something, just keep chasing it.”
Chase it and chase it and chase it.
Until one becomes 726.
Thank you, hockey.
To read Ward’s full Players’ Tribune article, click here.
By Della Young