Capping an unlikely playing career, Joel Ward announced his retirement from hockey on Monday. Ward shared the news in a compelling piece at The Players’ Tribune.
Ward, 39, titled that announcement “726.” That represents the number of regular season games Ward played with the Wild, Predators, Capitals, and Sharks. For a lightly scoring player even at the University of Prince Edward Island — a player who went undrafted — Ward realizes how unlikely his journey was.
While Ward received a tryout with the Canadiens before 2018-19, he last enjoyed NHL action with the Sharks in 2017-18. That also represents his last hockey run, as Ward didn’t go overseas.
In retrospect, retiring this way ended up feeling fitting for Ward.
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 truly took an unlikely path to the NHL, going from the University of Prince Edward Island, jumping suddenly from the ECHL to the AHL, and then making a lasting impact at the highest level. As Ward notes, he even played for Team Canada during the 2014 world championships.
Ward shares details from his career as he retires
Of course, Ward didn’t just play in 726 regular-season games. He also appeared in 83 playoff contests, managing a memorable playoff overtime goal against the Bruins while he was with the Capitals in 2012.
Ward fondly recalls “[Alex Ovechkin], with the biggest smile on his face, flying at me full speed,” after Ward scored the goal, which you can watch in the video above this post’s headline. Ward focused on that memory, rather than the unfortunate, racist reaction from some fans after it.
Despite admittedly not being a smooth skater, a fighter, or a grinder, Ward managed to find a place in the NHL. He scored 133 goals and 304 points during those 726 games, including a 24-goal, 49-point season with the Capitals (2013-14) and a 21-goal, 43-points campaign with the Sharks (2015-16). Ward managed pretty strong playoff numbers, too (22 goals, 52 points), even if he eschewed labels like “clutch.”
Ward picks the Sharks locker room as his favorite, even if memories of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final still sting him today.
I miss that group so much already. I miss how much fun it was to come to the rink every day. That’s what separates San Jose from anywhere else. The atmosphere in that locker room, it’s remarkable. Every day was a blessing there. Patty, Pavs, Jumbo, Burnzy — those guys set the culture and everyone followed. I’m thankful to that organization for the opportunity to have played there, to have been a part of it all.
Really, thank you.
Ward’s Players’ Tribune retirement piece is worth your time, particularly if you enjoyed any of his 726 regular-season games and 83 postseason appearances.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.