By Michael McHugh
One year ago this time, Joel Ward was captain of his team at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Today, he is a 25-year-old rookie in the American Hockey League, playing for the Houston Aeros.
The road of life has many turns, but Ward couldnt be happier with where he has landed.
His journey began back in Toronto, where Ward tagged along with his older brothers for a round of street hockey, and picked up the game of ice hockey at the age of six. While dabbling in other sports such as soccer and baseball, hockey was the sport he loved.
My brothers played and I just kind of followed them, said Ward. Kevin Weekes, of the New York Rangers, was a neighbor and friend of his brothers. Together, they would play street hockey in the summers, and ice hockey in the winters. There his talent grew.
His whole family had a huge influence on him growing up, especially his mother, Cecilia. My mother would take me to all the games when I was younger, and she put a lot of time and effort in. It was tough on her working two jobs and taking care of us, he said.
Tragedy struck the Ward family in 1994, when during one of Joels Pee Wee games, his father, Randal suffered a stroke. Joel was 13 at the time. Two days later, his father died.
Joel credits his mother for having the strength to pull her family together and get things done. My mom works two jobs and shes a fantastic woman, a strong woman, and keeps working hard, he said. I love her. We are really close and I am thankful for that.
A good head and a great attitude have helped Joel in his everyday life. Ive enjoyed life so much up to this point and I think one of the reasons is that Im a positive person, and just keep my head on my shoulders, he said.
Since arriving in Houston, he has focused on his game, and finding his niche. The chemistry on and off the ice with his teammates shows, and he has great admiration for those who have made an impact on him.
Kirby Law has been just amazing, he said. What a great role model and leader he has been for the guys. Rem Murray points out a few things here and there, and hes been great to me, and hes been a positive influence on our team so far.
During a game in San Antonio last month, Joel suffered a knee injury. The time off the ice was difficult, having to watch his team play without him. He battled through the rehab, and rejoined his teammates on the ice last Saturday at home against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Ward, first noticed by Aeros assistant coach/assistant general manager at a Minnesota Wild rookie camp several years ago, is part of Houstons highly-regarded checking line with Bryan Lundbohm and Josh Olson. Ward was ready to start the season with the ECHLs Florida Everblades when the Aeros felt they needed some more grit and a hard worker.
Hes probably been the most pleasant surprise for us all year, said Aeros coach Rob Daum. At the beginning of the season, we werent sure how he was going to fit in to the team. We wanted to make our team better up front, but we didnt think he would play the prominent role that he has. Hes been a huge contributor to our team.
Goalie Josh Harding added, Hes one of the main components of our team. We strive off his energy.
His first pro goal came in front of his hometown when the team played the Toronto Marlies back on November 19. It was a great feeling, said Ward. I had a lot of friends and family there and it was a great feeling. His biggest moment was playing his first game with the Aeros, a moment hell remember forever.
Joels philosophy is that you cant let anyone get in the way of your goals. Its something that he has lived by and so far hes on track.
My biggest goal in life is to be happy, and do what I love to do, he said.
In his eyes, hes there.
JUST FOR FUN:
Favorite TV Show: I love the Sopranos
Favorite Food: Moms home cooked meals (He claims he and roommates Dustin Wood and Colin Peters are pretty good cooks and share cooking duties at home.)
Favorite Sports Team: Being from Toronto, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Most embarrassing Moment: When I was younger playing minor hockey, I was fooling around on the ice and tried doing figure skating and twirl ups and I ended up breaking my ankle. My parents werent too happy about that.
One thing you could change about yourself would be
Id say be on time more. Im the last one rolling out of bed. Im working on that though.