Joel Ward

Wild’s Dumba on Hockey Diversity Alliance, getting advice from Kaepernick

Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba appeared on “Lunch Talk Live” to discuss the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Dumba detailed much of the HDA’s aims to Mike Tirico, while also noting how Dumba and the rest of the alliance received advice from trailblazer Colin Kaepernick.

“Eradicating racism can’t be on the shoulders of seven guys,” Dumba told Tirico.

Indeed, shortly after the Hockey Diversity Alliance released its statement, people were throwing the net out wider.

From hearing Dumba’s account of a zoom call with Kaepernick, it sounds like the seven members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance were in awe of the former(?) NFL QB. While Dumba was vague about specific advice, he noted that Kaepernick emphasized unity, and finding the right ambassadors.

So far, those seven HDA ambassadors include: co-heads Akim Aliu and Evander Kane, along with executive committee members Dumba, Trevor Daley, Joel Ward, Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart.

Tirico also covered protests, particularly in the Minnesota communities that serve as a second home for Dumba. Dumba said he wishes he could be there to lend his support; in the meantime, Dumba praised J.T. Brown for helping others in the community.

Dumba noted that more Hockey Diversity Alliance announcements could come soon, so that’s exciting.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Aliu, Kane form Hockey Diversity Alliance ‘to eradicate racism and intolerance’

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A group of seven active and former NHL players announced the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA) on Monday. Akim Aliu and Evander Kane will serve as co-heads of an executive committee that also includes Trevor Daley, Matt Dumba, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, and Joel Ward.

“Our mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey,” The Hockey Diversity Alliance wrote in their press release. “We will strive to be a force of positive change not only within our game of hockey, but also within society. Although we will be independent of the NHL, we are hopeful that we will work productively with the league to accomplish these important changes. We believe in the importance of accountability in developing inclusivity and diversity for all involved in our sport, including fans and the league office.”

Check out the release here.

(If you want the full text of the release, scroll to the bottom of this post.)

Promising goals, and maybe even more potential in the future?

Along with mapping out a broader goal of addressing racism in hockey (and society), the Hockey Diversity Alliance also shared goals about making the sport more accessible. Considering the costs of playing hockey at most levels, this is pretty exciting. The HDIA noted that they have a “charitable fiscal sponsor” to help boost such efforts.

Speaking of broader goals, it would be delightful to see the Hockey Diversity Alliance cover many groups. And it sounds like early steps are being taken to include women:

Truly spreading the “Hockey is for Everyone” message would be tremendous. Ideally, the sport will also become more inclusive for the LGBTQ2+ community, among others.

NHL executive Kim Davis and NHLPA head Donald Fehr already ranked among those who expressed pride in NHL players speaking up about racism following George Floyd’s tragic death. Seeing Aliu, Kane, Daley, Dumba, Simmonds, Stewart, and Ward form the HDA should only further such feelings.

As promising as it is to picture how far this could go, it seems like the Hockey Diversity Alliance is already off to a promising start.

Full text of Hockey Diversity Alliance release:

Here it is, in full:

We love our sport. We believe that hockey is the greatest game in the world.

As minorities who play professional hockey, we have come together to create the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA). We have appointed Akim Aliu and Evander Kane as co-heads and our executive committee includes Trevor Daley, Matt Dumba, Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart, and Joel Ward.

Our mission is to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. We will strive to be a force of positive change not only within our game of hockey, but also within society. Although we will be independent of the NHL, we are hopeful that we will work productively with the league to accomplish these important changes. We believe in the importance of accountability in developing inclusivity and diversity for all involved in our sport, including fans and the league office.

We will promote diversity at all levels of the game through community outreach and engagement with you and will endeavor to make the game more affordable and accessible. We will also focus on educating the hockey community about the racism issues confronting the sport, while advocating for acceptance and equality. We have partnered with a charitable fiscal sponsor and we will be launching a charitable division in the coming weeks to assist us in achieving our objectives.

In creating our alliance, we are confident we can inspire a new generation of hockey players and fans. We are hopeful that anyone who puts on skates or sits in the stands will do so without worrying about race, gender or socioeconomic background (and) will be able to express their culture, identity, values and personality without fear of retribution.

We are united in our efforts and promise to work tirelessly to bring about the change our sport and society needs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Joel Ward retires from hockey, reflects on 726 unlikely NHL games

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 retires from hockey, 2014 world championships
(Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Under Pressure: Martin Jones

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ESPN called him the Sharks’ most important player.

GM Doug Wilson said he was “at the top of our list of players that we had targeted.”

He was acquired at a steep price (first-rounder in ’16), signed to a big raise (three years, $9 million) and will enter this season as a (projected) No. 1 goalie for the first time in his career.

So needless to say, there’s a fair bit of pressure on Martin Jones — not that he’s fearful of the challenges ahead.

“I think I’m ready to definitely take that step and play more hockey games,” Jones said earlier this summer, per CSN Bay Area. “It’s been a big couple years in my development I think, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge.”

Jones is high on promise and potential. He’s only 25, has good size (6-foot-4) and a ton of experience at the American League level, with nearly 150 games over the last five years.

There’s just one catch: He’s a bit of an unknown at the NHL level.

Stuck behind workhorse No. 1 Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles for the last two years, Jones made a grand total of 34 appearances for the Kings and while his numbers have been good — .923 save percentage, 1.99 GAA — it’s still a pretty small sample size.

Of course, the Sharks had an advantage of scouting Jones, thanks to playing in the Pacific Division. Jones has faced San Jose four times in his career, which included a 31-save effort in a 4-1 win at the start of the 2013-14 campaign — a game in which he was named first star.

“This is a guy we’ve seen,” Wilson said upon acquiring Jones, per CSN Bay Area. “We know a lot about him. It’s his style, his size – he’s a big goalie and highly competitive. You probably have more information on a player like this than you do a guy that you’d be drafting.”

There’s just one more wrinkle to all this.

Jones isn’t heading to any old team for the first starting gig of his career — he’s going to San Jose, a team coming off one of the most dysfunctional seasons in franchise history. The Sharks are determined to get back to the playoffs (Logan Couture all but guaranteed a return) and made two big veteran free agent splashes in Joel Ward and Paul Martin to help get back.

As such, Jones will carry additional weight in ’15-16.

Pressure’s on.

It’s San Jose Sharks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The San Jose Sharks.

After suffering a reverse sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, Sharks GM Doug Wilson declared San Jose a “tomorrow team” in a summer that drew confusion and criticism from some, but went “exactly the right way,” according to the general manager. When all was said and done though, the result that San Jose missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

At the age of 35, Patrick Marleau took a significant step back offensively as he scored just 19 goals after reaching the 30-goal milestone for five straight campaigns, not including the lockout shortened season. Joe Thornton, who turned 36 in July, also saw a longstanding streak end as he recorded less than 70 points (65) in a season where he played in at least 70 games for the first time since 1999-2000.

San Jose still wasn’t bad offensively. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture recorded 70 and 67 points respectively while Brent Burns tied for second among defensemen with 60 points. The Sharks just weren’t great in that regard though and their goaltending proved to be uninspired as well. Antti Niemi was a mixed bag and Alex Stalock, who had been a superb understudy in 2013-14, declined substantially last season.

With mediocrity being the Sharks’ calling card at both ends of the ice, they finished with a 40-33-9 record and were eight points behind Calgary for the third Pacific Division spot.

Off-season recap

Head coach Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks mutually agreed to part ways after failing to make the playoffs, which led to Peter DeBoer being named as the team’s new bench boss.

With that done, Sharks GM Doug Wilson moved on to the team’s biggest question mark going into the summer: the goaltending. Niemi was slated to become an unrestricted free agent and Wilson made his intentions clear by trading the netminder’s negotiating rights to Dallas. He later acquired Martin Jones, who enjoyed two strong season as the Kings’ backup goalie, to battle with Stalock for the top job.

San Jose also signed defenseman 34-year-old Paul Martin to a four-year, $19.4 million contract and forward Joel Ward to a three-year deal worth just under $10 million.

Once again the core of the Sharks hasn’t fundamentally changed, but at the same time the 2015-16 version of the team will certainly feature noteworthy differences from its predecessor.