Hurricanes Ward ‘stands on his head’ against the NY Islanders
First, the obvious question: will Cam Ward be in net for the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes?
“Oh, you know I can’t say that,” Ward said Wednesday.
Then again, the two teams play again Monday in Raleigh. What about being the starting goaltender in his return game to PNC Arena, again facing his former team?
“I hope so, but that’s to be determined, I guess,” Ward said.
That will be the coach’s call and as of Tuesday the Blackhawks had a new one. Joel Quenneville, winner of three Stanley Cups, was fired after the Blackhawks’ 6-6-3 start and Jeremy Colliton named as his replacement.
“It’s been crazy, with the coaching change,” Ward said in an interview. “It’s not something as a team that you want to see or go through. We’re making that transition now and going through the expectations of what Jeremy wants to get out of his players.
“Personally, it caught me by surprise. I’ve only been here for a short period of time and unfortunately didn’t get to know ‘Q’ as much as I would have liked. You had to respect what he did in his coaching career and in this organization the past decade.”
Colliton, who was coaching the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, is 33, the youngest coach in the NHL. Ward is 34.
“Definitely something new, to be older than the head coach,” Ward said. “I played against Jeremy in junior. He was with the Prince Albert Raiders.”
Asked if Colliton scored on him in the Western Hockey League, Ward chuckled. “Oh, I can’t remember. It’s hard to remember all the people who scored on me. There’s been too many.”
In 13 seasons with the Hurricanes, Ward won a Stanley Cup and was the franchise goalie, setting many franchise records. He made the commute to work from his North Raleigh home -- the one he still owns -- and became part of the community.
Then, he was gone. The Canes did not pursue a new contract with Ward after last season and he signed as a free agent with the Blackhawks in July.
Ward was brought in on a one-year, $3 million contract to be the backup for Corey Crawford, giving the Blackhawks another veteran goalie as Crawford continued to recover from concussion symptoms that lingered from last season.
Ward started the first five games. He won the first two in overtime, at Ottawa and St. Louis, then gave up seven goals to Toronto in his first start at the United Center in a wild 7-6 overtime loss.
In eight games, he has a 3-2-3 record with a 3.83 goal-against average and .887 save percentage, numbers that have had some Blackhawks fans casting some of the blame at him after Quenneville’s firing. Crawford is 3-4-0 with a 2.92 GAA and .907 save percentage, losing his last three starts.
“When I look at my games, you want to base if off how you feel and how you performed and not get too deep a dive into the numbers, because they can be skewed,” Ward said. “Toronto was the one game I felt like I was off. Otherwise I feel when I’ve played I’ve been able to try to give this team a chance to win and that’s what I’m striving to do.”
Ward said slipping into a Blackhawks uniform for the first time was slightly surreal.
“The first time I did it, you take a second and recognize this is different,” he said. “But with that said, there’s also excitement, too. There’s a lot of history with this franchise. You think of all the special players who have been able to wear this jersey and wear it proudly.”
Ward moved the family to Chicago, into a high-rise apartment downtown -- as he put it, “Right in the mix of everything.”
“As long as my family is happy I’m happy and it’s been a smooth transition with my kids and getting into their new schools,” he said.
Ward described himself as feeling like the new kid in school with his new team. It has taken a while, he said, to be himself.
“I’m a guy who likes to have fun and do some pranks and get involved with everybody,” he said. “I did find myself being the new quiet kid for a while. Just get used to your new surroundings. It’s such a big change from Carolina.”
Ward said he planned to drop by the Canes’ team hotel Wednesday night, just a few blocks away, and see some familiar faces. He said he keeps “close tabs” on the Hurricanes, saying, “There are guys over there I genuinely care about.”
Coach Rod Brind’Amour, Canes captain Justin Williams, Ward ... they won the Cup together in 2006. And there are so many others to see, longtime friends.
Then, the quick turnaround and next week’s game at PNC Arena. Again, it should be surreal.
“I’m really not sure what the emotions are going to be like when I come back to Carolina and walk into PNC again and not go to the Hurricanes’ side,” Ward said. “At the same time, in a sense, I feel like I’ll be coming home.”
Ward said the family would be with him in Raleigh. It’s also the Blackhawks’ “Dads Trip” and his father, Ken, will be with him.
“I’ll forever be grateful for what the Hurricanes organization and the fan base, the community and friends have all done for me,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, I can look back at all the great memories I had over the years in that city. The plan doesn’t change that it’s where I want to retire and reside.
“That said, we want to beat them in these two games. Don’t get that twisted.”