To win the Stanley Cup, no matter what point in the season, players make sacrifices regardless of the aftermath. For San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward, his presence stretches beyond the ice and the locker room. He has been a gritty player, always grinding in the corners for loose pucks. Despite his current production below from last season in San Jose, he will give his all to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Proof of his determination was made clear against the Winnipeg Jets registering a goal and an assist in San Jose’s 5-2 victory on Monday. Although his shorthanded goal was a snipe to the corner, his sacrifice in taking a hit proved dividends. Ward took a crunching hit by the Jets’ bench but not before he made a pass to Sharks rookie Timo Meier on a breakaway. To the relief of Ward, the pain subsided after the horn went off as Meier cashed in for his second goal of the season.
Ward got off to a quiet start to begin the 2016-17 campaign but is quickly turning the corner. After the game against Winnipeg, Ward has 16 points on the year. He may not reach his total of 34 points from last season, but his tough, physical style along the boards helps to create scoring chances for the Sharks.
The hit Ward took on Monday reminded his teammates of the message for this season. His sacrifice will not be the last and wants his teammates to step up in critical moments. Perhaps the hit Ward took challenges the work ethic of the Sharks moving forward.
A Much-Needed Presence in the Clubhouse
Last season, players such as Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture praised Ward for his presence inside the locker room. His arrival in San Jose came at a time when tension was a recurring issue during the 2014-15 campaign.
Before Ward, the Sharks’ locker room was dysfunctional. The aftermath of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles carried over. A war of words between Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson only heightened the tension between players and ownership. On top of the rift, then head coach Todd McLellan had lost the locker room prompting him and Wilson to mutually part ways. Reports indicated McLellan and Thornton were not on the same page.
With Peter DeBoer named head coach last season, Wilson needed to add a veteran presence to change the culture. After a successful stint with the Washington Capitals, Wilson lured Ward away to join San Jose. The Sharks’ were familiar with Ward having to face him on the Nashville Predators. His rough play gave the Sharks’ problems as he was always digging out loose pucks in the offensive zone.
But the Sharks’ did not know how much Ward made an impact inside the locker rooms of the Predators and the Capitals. Former teammates and coaches expressed how great of a person he was inside the dressing rooms. With his presence, along with DeBoer, the Sharks’ clubhouse changed and got back on track to being contenders for the Stanley Cup.
His Goal the Biggest in Sharks’ History
San Jose has been notorious for underachieving in the playoffs. In McLellan’s first year as head coach, the Sharks’ appeared destined to capture the Stanley Cup. Destiny never came into fruition as San Jose fell in six games to Anaheim.
However, the Sharks have been in memorable playoff games regardless of the outcome. Former Shark and current radio color commentator, Jamie Baker, recorded the franchise’s biggest goal in playoff history — a late marker in Game 7 proved to be the difference in San Jose’s upset win over the Detroit Red Wings in the 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Baker’s goal was eclipsed last season by Ward. His goal early into the third period turned out to be the game-winner to propel San Jose into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. Ward was perhaps the best free agent signing before the 2015-16 season.
With the looming expansion draft, chances are the Sharks will expose Ward given the current talent on the roster. Should Ward get chosen, his presence will certainly benefit the Vegas Golden Knights and significantly impact San Jose next season. Regardless of what happens, Ward will forever be in Sharks’ lore until the game winner is scored to hoist the Stanley Cup.