SAN JOSE, Calif. — Former Sharks forward Joel Ward is fully ready to start the next chapter of his life.
Being a father to his one-year-old son and a husband to his wife, Kathleen, are the biggest priorities for Ward, who officially announced his retirement Monday. But after experiencing racism first-hand during his hockey career, and seeing New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller become a target of a recent online attack, Ward also feels he can help the NHL combat bigotry in the game.
“It’s just a game for everybody,” said Ward, whose parents immigrated from Barbados to Canada before he was born, on a conference call.
“I picked up a stick and fell in love with it, why can’t the next kid? I think a lot of it for guys like myself and other players to show kids of minority background and people of color that hockey is for everybody. We’re here just to enjoy the game and have fun. It’s another sport that anybody else can just pick up and play and we’ve been trying to focus that to get more kids more involved and not to be scared.”
Ward made his retirement official with an article he published in The Players’ Tribune titled “726,” representing the number of regular season games he played in the NHL over 10-plus seasons. That included 209 games with the Sharks from 2015 to 2018.
Undrafted, Ward played four years of university hockey in Canada and spent over a season in the AHL before made his NHL debut with Minnesota on Dec. 16, 2006 at the age of 26.
Ward also played for Nashville and Washington before he joined the Sharks. He finished his career with 133 goals and 304 points, which included 36 goals and 84 points in San Jose.
Ward’s first year in San Jose in 2015-16 was his best with the Sharks. At age 35, he scored 21 goals and had 43 points, the second-highest single season totals of his career. He also had 13 points in 24 playoff games, as the Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time as a franchise.
In his article, Ward detailed how well he meshed with the Sharks, saying, “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.”
Ward said there have also been discussions with the Sharks about being a part of the organization, possibly in a developmental role.
“I’ve shared I would like to get on the ice with them if that can work,” Ward said.
Ward became an NHL regular in 2008 and spent three years with the Predators, helping the team win its first ever playoff series in 2011. He had three goals and two assists in the Predators’ six-game series win over Anaheim in the first round.
Ward then signed with Washington in the summer of 2011, and added to his reputation as a clutch playoff performer. In Game 7 of the Capitals’ first round series with the defending Cup champion Boston Bruins, Ward scored the overtime winner to lift seventh-seeded Washington past No. 2 Boston.
Ward had 52 points in 83 career playoff games. In the Sharks’ run to the Cup final in 2016, Ward had seven goals and six assists in 24 games. San Jose lost in the final to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
“Obviously, we came up short against a great team,” Ward said. “It was a tough way to go, but to play against some great people, everybody bonded well, fought for each other and made it really special.”
Ward was involved with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program for throughout his career. But recent incidents have served as a reminder of how much work there remains to be done to eradicate racism from the game.
In November, Bill Peters resigned as Calgary’s coach after allegations arose that he used racial slurs and was physically abusive when he was a coach in the minor leagues.
Earlier this month, Miller, after he agreed to terms with the Rangers to turn professional after two seasons at Wisconsin, was subjected to a racial slur during a Q&A session the NHL team hosted on a Zoom call. There was little oversight of the session, which was open to the first 500 people who joined.
“It’s definitely disheartening, it’s sickening to hear some of these cases for sure,” Ward said. “All he wanted to do was to play, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do as a kid, was to pick up a hockey stick and play the game.
“I’ve gone though personally some racism (in) the game. It’s definitely hard. You just put your foot down, I think my love of the game kind of took over. It’s unfortunate what happened with K’Andre. We’ve got to step up and say we want to end this, as we need everybody, (both) from the league and key marquee players.”
In his article, Ward wrote how fatherhood has changed his perspective following his playing career. His son, Robinson, was born a little more than a year ago in the South Bay, where he and his wife still have a home.
“When I saw my son during my wife’s ultrasound over a year ago, I couldn’t wait to tell him those stories,” Ward wrote. “That’s, I think, what made me ready to call it a career. I just wanted to be a dad.”
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