One year ago this time, Joel Ward was captain of his team at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Today, he is a rookie in the American Hockey League, playing for the Houston Aeros.
The road of life has many turns, but Ward couldn’t be happier with where he has landed.
His journey began back in Toronto, where Ward tagged along with his older brothers for a round of street hockey, and picked up the game of ice hockey at the age of six. While dabbling in other sports such as soccer and baseball, hockey was the sport he loved.
“My brothers played and I just kind of followed them,” said Ward. Kevin Weekes, now of the New York Rangers, was a neighbor and friend of his brothers. Together, they would play street hockey in the summers, and ice hockey in the winters. There his talent grew.
His whole family had a huge influence on him growing up, especially his mother, Cecilia.
“My mother would take me to all the games when I was younger, and she put a lot of time and effort in. It was tough on her working two jobs and taking care of us,” he said.
Tragedy struck the Ward family in 1994, when during one of Joel’s pee-wee games, his father, Randal suffered a stroke. Joel was 13 at the time. Two days later, his father died.
Joel credits his mother for having the strength to pull her family together and get things done. “My mom works two jobs and she’s a fantastic woman, a strong woman, and keeps working hard,” he said. “I love her. We are really close and I am thankful for that.”
A good head and a great attitude have helped Joel in his everyday life. “I’ve enjoyed life so much up to this point and I think one of the reasons is that I’m a positive person, and just keep my head on my shoulders,” he said.
Since arriving in Houston, he has focused on his game, and finding his niche. The chemistry on and off the ice with his teammates shows, and he has great admiration for those who have made an impact on him.
“Kirby Law has been just amazing,” he said. “What a great role model and leader he has been for the guys. Rem Murray points out a few things here and there, and he’s been great to me, and he’s been a positive influence on our team so far.”
During a game in San Antonio last month, Joel suffered a knee injury. The time off the ice was difficult, having to watch his team play without him. He battled through the rehab, and rejoined his teammates on the ice last Saturday at home against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Ward, first noticed by Aeros assistant coach/assistant general manager Matt Shaw at a Minnesota Wild rookie camp several years ago, is part of Houston’s highly-regarded checking line with Bryan Lundbohm and Josh Olson. Ward was ready to start the season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades when the Aeros felt they needed some more grit and a hard worker.
“He’s probably been the most pleasant surprise for us all year,” said Aeros head coach Rob Daum. “At the beginning of the season, we weren’t sure how he was going to fit in to the team. We wanted to make our team better up front, but we didn’t think he would play the prominent role that he has. He’s been a huge contributor to our team.”
Goalie Josh Harding added, “He’s one of the main components of our team. We strive off his energy.”
His first pro goal came in front of his hometown when the team played the Toronto Marlies back on Nov. 19. “It was a great feeling,” said Ward. “I had a lot of friends and family there and it was a great feeling.” His biggest moment was playing his first game with the Aeros, a moment he’ll remember forever.
Joel’s philosophy is that you can’t let anyone get in the way of your goals. It’s something that he has lived by and so far he’s on track.
“My biggest goal in life is to be happy, and do what I love to do,” he said.
In his eyes, he’s there.