Published May 08, 2011
VANCOUVER -- Cecilia Ward left Barbados in 1962 and came to the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Despite moving into a hockey hotbed, it took her a long time to buy into this whole thing her son was falling in love with.
She's a big fan now, and probably was screaming her lungs out Saturday night from her home across the country. Cecilia's baby boy -- Nashville forward Joel Ward -- netted arguably the two biggest goals of his life at Rogers Arena to help the Predators live to play another game in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Joel Ward scored twice within the first six minutes of the third period, and his second goal proved to be the winner in a 4-3 victory that sends the series back to Nashville for Game 6 with the Canucks' lead pared down to just one game.
"I just want to win," Ward said. "I try to work hard, and not think about it too much, but you do want to be that guy that steps up."
He did in a big way Saturday night, and now his seven goals are tied for the NHL lead in the playoffs with Sean Bergenheim, James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere. Shockingly, his seven goals are also one more than Henrik and Daniel Sedin have combined, and Ward scored only 10 in the regular season while the Sedin twins combined for 60.
Ward has 12 points in 11 playoff games after scoring only 29 in 80 regular season games. He's on a four-game point streak and a three-game goal scoring streak.
"I'm just having fun," Ward said. "I come to the rink with a smile on my face every day, I love being here. I love the guys. You just try to embrace it and don't put too much emphasis on the actual games, with there being too much pressure. I'm just trying to live in the moment as best I can."
And why wouldn't he? Ward is proof that a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of determination will get you where you want to go in life.
"You just look at the way he got to the NHL, nothing but hard work," Predators captain Shea Weber told NHL.com. "He didn't give up and to see him come up huge for us like that, I'm sure it's really meaningful for him."
He came off the streets of Scarborough and into the Ontario Hockey League, where for four years -- bridging the late 1990s and the early 2000s -- he was a better than average scorer, but not good enough to get noticed by an NHL team.
Ward had to go to the University of Prince Edward Island and play four years of CIS hockey. He eventually latched on with the Minnesota Wild in 2005 and played for their American Hockey League affiliate in Houston. He played 11 games with the Wild in 2006-07, but didn't last there, instead requiring two more years in the AHL with the Aeros before the Predators signed him to a one-year deal.
"I never gave up the dream," Ward said. "I knew myself that if I got a chance to play at the American League level, the sky is the limit from there. I just wanted to get that opportunity and I did. I didn't want to be known as a good university player -- I wanted to be known as a good NHL player, and that's what I've been striving to work hard for all my life."
Nashville gave him his first real chance and Ward has been a Predator ever since, scoring 40 goals over three seasons. If the Predators are eliminated on Monday and Ward doesn't get another point, he'll still be in line for a decent raise and perhaps a multi-year contract from an NHL club -- perhaps the Predators -- when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"I'm not too worried about that," Ward said. "I just play and at the end of the season that stuff will take care of itself. I don't really think about that. I never have. I just want to win. Everybody here just wants to bring home the Stanley Cup."
If the Preds can do that, Ward can bring it to Cecilia in Scarborough so she can fully grasp why her son never gave up on the dream.
"She's got the hockey package now, so she catches all the games, watches the other series like Detroit and San Jose and tells me who the good players are on those teams," Ward said. "She just loves the game, has a strong passion. It's definitely her favorite sport even though cricket is our pastime in Barbados."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl