Canes goalie Ward healthy, motivated as season approaches

calexander@newsobserver.comAugust 23, 2013 

Hurricanes Canadiens Hockey

Montreal Canadiens' Erik Cole (72), Carolina Hurricanes' Joe Corvo (77) and goaltender Cam Ward (30) watch the puck during the first period of their NHL hockey game, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

GRAHAM HUGHES — AP

— Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has a lot driving him as a new season approaches – a motivational checklist, if you will.

Ward wants to lead the Hurricanes back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.

He wants to prove he’s an elite goaltender in the NHL.

He wants to play well enough to reenter the running for a spot on Canada’s Olympic team for the 2014 Games.

Finally, Ward wants to prove a serious knee injury last season was only a temporary setback.

Canes coach Kirk Muller said he senses Ward has “fire in his belly.” And Ward agrees.

“I definitely do,” Ward said this week. “Last season obviously is one I’d like to forget. I feel confident I’ve done everything I can this summer to get my body in the best shape I possibly can to have a healthy season. I want to make a big impact on this hockey team and let my play do the talking.”

Ward, 29, was hugely disappointed in 2010, when the Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver. Invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp in the summer of 2009, he was hindered by back issues. Then, he was slashed by a skate in November 2009, sidelining him for a month.

Hurricanes teammate Eric Staal was chosen for the Canadian team and returned with a gold medal. Ward stayed home.

Now, there’s the knee. Ward suffered a third-degree sprain of his left medial collateral ligament during a March 3 game in Florida, shelving him the remainder of the year.

When the invitations went out for the Team Canada Olympic camp that begins Sunday, Ward’s name was not included. But the team selections won’t be made until December and Ward would like to think there’s still time to make a case.

“It’s definitely in my head, yes,” he said. “Obviously I was very disappointed to be left off that list but you’ve got to look at the positives and I’m going to use that as even more motivation to prove some people wrong. Again, let my play do the talking and hopefully I can play my way on to the team.”

Ward, like many NHL veterans, was affected by the league’s lockout last fall. While he did his best to stay in shape, working out at Raleigh Center Ice, the pace was too light and there was little intensity.

Ward was not at his best once the lockout ended in January and the season suddenly began. He was pulled after the first period of the Canes’ opener against the Florida Panthers and needed time to regain sharpness in net and feel completely comfortable.

Ward was playing well when he was injured. He had won four of five starts, facing 40 Washington shots in that one loss. He allowed eight goals in the five games and stopped 108 of 116 shots – a .931 save percentage.

But in the game in Florida, he had his left leg pinned against the post during a second-period collision with the Panthers’ Jack Skille and teammate Justin Faulk. Just like that, his season was over.

Dan Ellis finished in net that day as the Canes won the game 3-2, pushing their record to 12-8-1. Without Ward, they finished 19-25-4.

“When Cam got hurt, it hurt the whole team,” forward Jiri Tlusty said Friday. “He’s one of the biggest pieces for this team.”

Ward didn’t need surgery and quickly began a rehab plan overseen by Canes trainer Pete Friesen. He said he could have returned for the playoffs had the Canes made it, but would not have been at 100 percent.

“It would have been a grind, but knowing my competitiveness I would have tried my best,” Ward said.

Ward was a rookie when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the Canes’ drive to the 2006 Stanley Cup. The years have flown by, but Staal said he expects to see a rejuvenated Ward this season.

“He’s excited and motivated,” Staal said. “It’s a good thing. He’s always at his best when that’s the case.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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