Easily one of the most recognizable Red Deer Rebels to lace up the skates, announced his retirement from hockey Wednesday.
Goalie Cam Ward, who is arguably the greatest player in Rebels’ franchise history, signed a one-day contract with the Carolina Hurricanes so he could end his career with the team that drafted him.
“It was an honour and a privilege to wear the Hurricanes jersey for 13 years,” Ward said. “Throughout it all, what stayed clear to me was my love for this organization, this city and this fan base. It is why my family and I call Raleigh home, and will continue to call it home.”
Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter said Wednesday he was happy to have coached Ward not only because of the player he became, but the man he was on and off the ice.
“He was a great junior, a great Red Deer Rebel and he was a great pro. Just his mannerisms in junior hockey, he was a great teammate and he had a great career,” said Sutter.
“He played on some pretty good teams and to do it all in one place for the better part of 12 years. I have all the time in the world for him because he’s a great man from a great family… he’s stepping away on his terms.”
The netminder arrived in Red Deer full-time as a 17-year-old and joined a team that had just come off a WHL title and a Memorial Cup championship in 2001.
Goalie Shane Bendera helped the Rebels capture the Mem Cup and was the WHL playoff MVP to boot. As the incumbent and a 19-year-old, it was still only a slight shock that Ward took over by midseason.
Ward went on to play 159 games in Red Deer and never posted a goals against average higher than 2.27. He had a WHL career regular season record of 101-40-15. In three seasons, he posted a save percentages of 0.911, 0.920 and 0.926 in his final season.
“For all three of those years, he was lights out. The first two years we went to the finals with him,” Sutter said.
“He was our best player. His 19-year-old year, he was just unstoppable. He was just like that, he was calm. He had a huge influence in our dressing room, no one got rattled, because they knew he was in net.”
Rebels longtime play-by-play man Cam Moon said one playoff series, in particular, stands out. The Rebels knocked off the Moose Jaw Warriors in six games in the 2004 playoffs. Ward stood on his head while the Rebels were outshot nearly 2-1 on the road, but still managed to win both games. Ward then posted a shutout to win Game 6.
“Moose Jaw outplayed us every game and we won the series in six. The number one reason was Cam Ward,” Moon said.
“He was so good in that series. The shot totals were ridiculous. That to me, I just watched a guy win a series almost by himself.”
When I was 19 years old Cam Ward used his @VaughnHockey equipment $$ to help me get a new pair of pads while I was playing Junior A in the @TheAJHL
Thank you and happy retirement Wardo. @CanesNHL pic.twitter.com/gzKhZorCep
— Shannon Szabados (@ShannonSzabados) August 28, 2019
After just one year in Red Deer, Ward was drafted in the first round, 25th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. He played 50 games with the Lowell Lock Monsters in the American League during the 2004-05 season and posted a 1.99 GAA and 0.937 SV%.
The following season came the magical run with the Hurricanes. Ward helped Carolina win the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He was the first rookie goalie to win the cup since Patrick Roy in 1986.
He went on to play 701 NHL games over 15 seasons, most with the Hurricanes.
While his time on the ice is memorable for many hockey fans, his contributions off the ice stand out for most who know him.
Moon also recalled a recent visit for the Rebels to Calgary. Ward, then with the Blackhawks was on the ice getting some extra work as the backup goalie that evening. The veteran netminder took some time to meet with Mikel McIver, the Rebels longtime dressing room attendant, who grew into fast friends with Ward during his WHL days.
According to Sutter, that’s just the type of person he was.
“The way he was as a person, he was always first class. Very professional. Great guy,” Sutter concluded.
With files from the Canadian Press.