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Cam Ward: A legacy, an icon and an inspiration

As the Carolina Hurricanes prepare to honor former goaltender Cam Ward into its team Hall of Fame, let’s remember the legacy of the man who delivered the Stanley Cup to Carolina.

Carolina Hurricanes Goalie Cam Ward, 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals SetNumber: X76180 TK1 R5

The name ‘Cam Ward’ carries a lot of weight in the City of Oaks.

Standing on the red carpet that was ceremoniously rolled out to center ice for him Thursday night, you could catch a glimpse of that weight.

The roaring ovation of the crowd as the beloved former franchise netminder — who was an integral part of the history of the Hurricanes, backstopping the team from 2005 to 2018 — had his highlights played on the jumbotron above captures just a small sample of the love the community had for him.

‘Wardo’ provided countless memories for scores of fans, with perhaps none bigger than the image of him hoisting the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophies proudly over his head in 2006.

Even though his legacy was a bumpy road towards the latter half, Ward was a beloved Hurricane whose legacy went beyond the on-ice game and it’s only fitting that he was honored with an induction into the Carolina Hurricanes’ Hall of Fame.

“We’ve got a history now,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “You can’t have a Hall of Fame or anything like that until you get some history. You’ve gotta earn it and have guys who have come in here and actually done something. Obviously, when you think of the history of the Hurricanes, you can’t not think of Cam Ward. He was our goalie that helped us win the Stanley Cup. He was a great Hurricane for a long, long time. He remains in the community, he’s a good friend and he’s a great representative of our organization. We had good times, bad times, but he always did it right.”

The legacy of Cam Ward was indeed a whiplash of memories, from the sport’s greatest achievement, winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in 2006 to a being an NHL All-Star in 2011, to the long and arduous journey through the franchise’s longest playoff drought,

But through it all, it can’t be understated how well Ward carried himself.

“I have a lot of respect, number one, for him as a person and just a lot of gratitude for what he did for our team, not only helping us win, but what he meant as a Hurricane,” Brind’Amour said. “He handled himself the way you wanted and represented the organization to the utmost. He’s a great human being.”

Ward was unapologetically himself throughout it all, the good times and bad.

“I just remember that he was just a big kid,” said Brett Pesce, who played alongside Ward for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. “I remember him playing in the soccer circle before games, and just him goofing around and always keeping it light. But when it came game time he was super serious and dialed in. I think that’s just a good way to be as a person and he was just unreal for the room.”

“It’s really fortunate for me that I was surrounded by guys like that,” said Sebastian Aho, who played with Ward from 2016 to 2018. “We didn’t really have the best record and nobody was really happy with where we were in the standings, but he was still, every night and every day, putting in that work and there was always that same competitive mindset. I learned a lot from him. He was a great guy to be around and I always got along with him really nicely.”

Even when the team stagnated and times got tough, he made sure to be that role model for the younger generation of Canes who have now blossomed and provided stable success for a market hungry to watch them.

Now, on the night he was honored as a permanent member of the Carolina Hurricanes Hall of Fame, let’s remember the career of number 30.

There’s no greater achievement for a hockey player than lifting the Stanley Cup above your head and Ward managed to capture that moment in his rookie season, leading the Hurricanes to their first and only Cup in 2006.

“To be able to win the Stanley Cup, it was really a storybook year,” Ward said. “I grew up just outside of Edmonton so I was playing against my hometown team, the Edmonton Oilers, and everything just happened so fast. I know it’s a cliché to say it was a dream come true, but it literally was. That’s why we play the game for moments like that and having the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. The unique and great thing about the Stanley Cup trophy is that you get your name engraved in there and nobody can take that away from you.”

Ward didn’t start the playoffs for Carolina, as it was Martin Gerber, the Hurricanes’ number one that year, who got the nod in the Conference Quarter-Finals against the Montreal Canadiens.

But when the Canes saw themselves fall into an early 0-2 hole, conceding six goals in each of the losses, then head coach Peter Laviolette made the decision to give the rookie a shot.

“It just wasn’t a big deal for us,” Brind’Amour, who was the captain of the team at that time, said. “We knew he was a good goalie, it was just that our other guy played so good all year. Martin Gerber, like I’ve said all along, was probably the best goaltending I’ve seen over a full year here. He was great that year and Cam just didn’t get a lot of starts. But when he had his chance, we knew he could do it. The fact that he was young didn’t really matter. He showed up on the scene and you could tell he was an NHLer.”

The Hurricanes would go on to win the next four games against the Canadiens, and Ward did not concede more than two goals in any game that series. Then came the New Jersey Devils. And then the Buffalo Sabres. And then eventually the Edmonton Oilers.

None good enough to best Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Cam Ward’s NHL career began on October 5, 2005 as the 2002, 25th overall pick entered in relief for Martin Gerber. He turned aside 10 of the 11 shots he faced as his team lost 5-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

However, Ward would get his first NHL start just a few days later in the Hurricanes’ home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After a 2-2 tie couldn’t be solved by regulation or overtime, a shootout commenced and Ward stopped Mario Lemieux, Zigmund Palffy and Sidney Crosby in succession to win his first game.

Ward went on to capture the Stanley Cup that season along with the Conn Smythe, posting a 0.920 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average, winning 15 of the 23 games he appeared in.

The Saskatoon native played 14 seasons in the NHL with 13 of those coming with the Carolina Hurricanes and his 668 games played, 318 wins and 27 shutouts are all franchise records.

“I took a lot of great pride in being able to play 13 years within this organization,” Ward said. “During that time, I established a lot of great relationships and great memories. Both of my kids were born here in Raleigh and over that long period of time, this has essentially become… this is home.”

Ward also holds the single-season records for wins (39 in 2008-09), shutouts (6 in 2008-09) and saves (2191 in 2010-11).

In fact, that 2010-11 season saw Ward appear in 74 games in which he posted a 37-26-10 record and a career best 0.923 save percentage. His 2,191 saves that season are also the eighth most saves ever made by an NHL goaltender in a single season.

“He was just an all-time competitor,” Pesce said. “He was probably one of the more competitive guys I’ve met. Just wanted to win so bad and was such a good pro. Obviously a world-class goalie and it was just a pleasure to be around him for a few years for sure.”

Ward would play one season outside of Carolina, signing with the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2018-19 season, but after a tough season, the veteran netminder knew it was time to hang up the skates.

“When I was done, I knew that I was done,” Ward said. “My dad’s motto when I was playing was, ‘The more fun you have, the better you do.’ And it became evident that I wasn’t having that much fun towards the end and I knew that was my time. It started to hurt a little too much to play. The body started to wear down and I knew that it was time for me. In saying that, it is hard to just, the next day be done. Once you’re out, you’re out and that’s a hard pill to swallow. But I’ve met a lot of great people throughout the game of hockey and especially with my time being down here.”

Ward would sign a one-day contract on August 28, 2019 to retire a Carolina Hurricane.

In retirement, Ward started a wine business with fellow teammate Tim Gleason. Vineyard 36, an ohmage to each’s numbers — 30 and 6 — specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines with the vineyard based out of Napa Valley, California.

Cam doesn’t lace them up anymore, although he said he would lace them up “one more time,” for the Hurricanes’ Alumni game, but he does stay close to the game.

A new season ticket holder, Ward is a frequent at Canes games alongside his son Nolan.

“It’s great to be able to share those memories with my kids and get back into watching the game of hockey,” Ward said.

Even beyond the stats, Cam Ward was an icon in the market.

Take it from me, whose introduction to hockey featured watching Cam Ward play.

I remember the iconic John Forslund calls of ‘The puck stops here!’ and ‘Ward says no!’ and seeing those phrases emblazoned on shirts in The Eye.

I remember going to games with my mom who was dressed in her black and red scarf and autographed Cam Ward jersey, ringing her cowbell as she reacted to every save like it was life and death.

I remember waiting outside of practices with by dad on the north side of PNC Arena waiting to get autographs from every player I could, but being especially excited when Ward took the time to stop and sign my jersey.

I remember talking about my favorite Hurricanes players on the playground at recess, where of course Ward was always talked about, and wearing my 2011 All-Star game t-shirt to school.

Cam Ward was more than just a player to the community. He was an icon whose legacy involved helping to grow the game in a burgeoning market.

He inspired many to love the game and even got some to play it. The amount of number 30 Hurricanes jerseys you’ll see around the state or in local ice rinks is a testament to his lasting legacy on the fanbase.

I was eight when the Hurricanes won the Cup. Now, I’m now a full blown media member, writing stories about the Hurricanes, interviewing players and I even have the chance to cover the Stadium Series, an event I never could have imagined over a decade ago.

Cam Ward was a part of that inspiration for me and now he fittingly will take his honored place in Hurricanes history.