Washington Capitals players tapped the ice with sticks when Joel Ward skated onto the rink for practice Friday, and some fans rose for a standing ovation in support of the player whose series-winning goal was greeted with a racial outburst on Twitter.
The 31-year-old left wing, one of a handful of black players in the NHL, was the target of numerous degrading tweets after he scored in overtime of Game 7 on Wednesday to end the first-round series against the Boston Bruins.
"I don't let it bother me at all," Ward said as the Capitals returned to practice ahead of Saturday's Game 1 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. "It's a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments, and what can you do? I know what I signed up for. I'm a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It's just going to come with the territory. I'd feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn't exist. It's a battle I think will always be there."
The hockey community has rallied around Ward. Both the Bruins and the NHL quickly condemned the tweets, as did Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who wrote on his blog: "Shame on these folks who decided to take to their keyboards and show their ignorance and their racism and hate."
On Friday, teammate Jason Chimera criticized the "few idiots out there who ruin a beautiful moment for somebody."
"There's been a lot of support from everybody, especially my teammates and the whole organization and the Bruins, and some of their fans," Ward said. "I was blown away by the amount of people and the amount of support."
The goal stands as one of the top moments in Ward's four NHL seasons and one of the most memorable in Capitals history — the first time the franchise has won a Game 7 on the road. The Toronto native was signed as a free agent from the Nashville Predators last June largely because of his nine goals and 17 points in 18 playoff games the past two springs, but he had managed just two assists for Washington in the seven games against Boston until the series winner.
"My advice for him — just don't listen to what people say, good things or bad things. You just have to concentrate," teammate Alex Ovechkin said. "He's strong and he's funny. He's, right now, Michael Jordan of hockey."