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Ward emotional about leaving Canes, signing with Chicago

The Canes' Cam Ward (30) snags puck in NHL game between Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay at PNC Arena on April 7, 2018.
The Canes' Cam Ward (30) snags puck in NHL game between Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay at PNC Arena on April 7, 2018.

It has been an emotional stretch of days for Cam Ward as the thought, the finality of leaving the Carolina Hurricanes crept closer.

For the past 13 seasons, Ward was all about winning games for the Hurricanes, of being a goaltender determined and capable of giving his team a chance to win each time out. In 341 games, in the regular season and playoffs, No. 30 was the winning goalie.

But all that changed Sunday. Ward, made an unrestricted free agent by the Canes, signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks as NHL free agency began. The Canes, in turn, signed goalie Petr Mrazek to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

"It has been really emotional, to be honest," Ward said in an interview Sunday. "Never did I imagine that I would be in this situation and have to picture myself playing anywhere else but in Carolina. I definitely loved being a Hurricane and dedicated a lot of blood, sweat and tears to the organization over all the years.

"Once I found out that things were going to happen and go in a different direction, I was humbled by the response of other organizations reaching out to me. That got me excited again to think about the new possibilities and any idea of being in the new organization.

"Today being the day, it has really started to sink in. We're excited and nervous and all the other emotions."

Rod Brind'Amour has experienced it before — starting over with a new team, new coaches.

The Canes coach won the 2006 Stanley Cup as the Canes captain, with a rookie, Cam Ward, becoming the surprise star of the playoffs and given the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP. Brind'Amour is a big believer in Ward and appreciative of what he has meant to the franchise, to the community.

"He's a Hurricane and he always will be," Brind'Amour said Sunday. "He always put the organization first. He's one of the players who lives here year-round. He made this his home, and his family loves it here. He made a commitment to the community.

"That's the kind of stuff that, for me, means a lot, and I know it meant a lot for him to be here. But we all know the business side of the sport."

When the Canes ended the 2017-18 season with a home game and victory against Tampa Bay, with Ward in net, a lot of people sensed that might be Ward's final game with the Hurricanes. His contract was coming to an end. On July 1, he would be a free agent.

The Canes had a new majority owner, Tom Dundon, promising that a shakeup was coming. How would that affect Ward?

"Any time your contact is up, you can't help but wonder if it is going to be your last game," Ward said. "The last game against Tampa, the fact we didn't make the playoffs once again and with the new ownership and the direction they're heading, I knew that could be my last game. Not that I wanted it to be."

Dundon, who became the team's majority owner in mid-January, fired general manager Ron Francis and gave Don Waddell the dual responsibility of being general manager and team president. The decision was made that the Canes, after missing the playoffs for a ninth straight season, would not bring back Scott Darling and Ward as the goaltending tandem.

Darling, wildly inconsistent last season, has three years left on his contract. Ward, much steadier than Darling, was a pending free agent.

"To be honest, I was never offered anything from the Hurricanes and was never really heard," Ward said. "I knew they were looking elsewhere. I never once felt a priority to come back."

Ward's agent, Rick Curran, began reaching out to other teams, and Ward set up interviews this past week. Chicago made a good offer. Come Sunday, Cam Ward was starting over.

"It's a new adventure for Cam," Brind'Amour said. "That was my message for him: 'It's a new adventure for you and your family and it's tough and you won't know what to do the first couple of weeks, but once you're there and settled, it's not that big a deal.'

"I think the way he's looking at it, he doesn't have to establish himself. He's done all that. Now it's just about going out and playing and having fun again. They have an exciting team, they play in front of 20,000 fans.

"He'll excel there. I know he will."