RALEIGH — Aaron Ward's NHL career has ended, but his legacy with the Carolina Hurricanes should be a lasting one.
The 37-year-old defenseman officially retired Tuesday after 13 seasons. He was rugged on the ice, affable and quotable off it, and he had a big hand in the Canes' run to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship after winning two titles with the Detroit Red Wings.
In the tense seventh game of the 2006 Stanley Cup final, Ward scored the important first goal against the Edmonton Oilers to give the Hurricanes the lead in the RBC Center. Carolina never trailed in winning 3-1, and Ward again lifted the Cup high in victory.
"I'm very proud to have played for as long as I did in the NHL, with and against the best players in the game," Ward said in a statement released by the NHL Players Association. "This game has left me with countless memories and relationships, especially from those Stanley Cup winning teams in Carolina and Detroit."
Ward left the Hurricanes as a free agent after the 2006 season, playing first for the New York Rangers and then the Boston Bruins. Playing for Boston against the Canes in the 2009 Eastern Conference playoff semifinals, he took a punch in the face from Carolina's Scott Walker as the Hurricanes upset the heavily favored Bruins in seven games.
A year later, Ward and Walker were teammates following Ward's July trade to the Canes for Patrick Eaves and a draft pick. But last season was a big disappointment - for the Canes and for Ward - as an early 14-game winless streak doomed Carolina's season and ruined their chances of again reaching the playoffs.
Ward was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks on the March 3 trade deadline after the team decided to trim payroll and stockpile draft picks.
In retrospect, Ward said, he should have undergone knee surgery in September. He decided against it, later calling it a big mistake, and the sore knee slowed him noticeably and hindered his play.
Ward had the surgery after the season, the third on the knee. But as a new season approached, he said he decided it was time to quit and enjoy more time with his family. He and his family still maintain a residence in the Raleigh area.
The final numbers for Ward include 839 games, 44 goals, 107 assists and 736 penalty minutes. The Windsor, Ontario, native played his first five seasons with the Red Wings, winning championships in 1997 and 1998.
Traded to the Hurricanes in July 2001, he helped Carolina reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. In the 2005-06 season, he recorded career highs in goals (6), assists (19) and points (25).
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