By Joseph R. Beare, Student Correspondent, BostonBruins.com
The trade deadline saw a pair of key additions to the Bruins back line.
And just minutes before the 3 PM cutoff, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced that the club had acquired veteran defenseman Aaron Ward from the New York Rangers in exchange for Paul Mara.
Ward immediately brings credibility and valuable experience to the dressing room. As a member of last year's Stanley Cup Champion Carolina squad, Ward anchored the Hurricanes’ defense en route to the third championship of his impressive career.
In addition to that Stanley Cup victory, Ward was also a member of the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings that won back to back championships in decisive fashion. But Ward is not the only face in the Boston locker room with his name on hockey’s holy grail from those two years.
Current B’s head coach Dave Lewis served as an assistant to Scotty Bowman both years in Detroit, and knows what kind of vocal leadership Ward will bring to the locker room.
“It won’t be quiet,” said the Bruins bench boss, dryly.
It certainly won’t.
An experienced leader who speaks his mind and does not shy away from tough questions, Ward’s play on the ice is as strong as his presence off of it. He is a big, physical defenseman who keeps his game simple and takes care of his own end first. Ward knows that his game should stay the same no matter what city he plays in or who he skates with.
“My role is to do the things that I’m supposed to be doing, play a simple game,” said Ward shortly after he arrived from New York. “(I need to) block shots, make physical contact in our zone, and maybe help some of the younger guys along with their game, with whatever knowledge I bring to the locker room.”
A veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Ward knows that leadership starts with establishing credibility on the ice.
“I like to think that (I'm a leader),” explained Ward. “But when you come into a new team you want to try and integrate yourself, be a quiet guy and a calming presence in the locker room.”
Ward spent the 2004-05 work stoppage in Germany, where he played with his current Bruins teammate Marco Sturm. Having an NHL player and native German on his squad, he says, made the adjustment to life across the Atlantic much smoother.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” says Ward of playing in Germany. “It was a good situation because Marco obviously speaks German and to have someone familiar with the NHL game who spoke the language was a great thing.”
When asked what the biggest difference between NHL hockey and the European game was, the new Bruin's answer was loud and clear.
“The ice is bigger! The ice is bigger! The ice is bigger!” laughed Ward. “It’s a little bit more of a skill game.”
And, while many of the NHL’s more physical defensemen struggled to adapt to the rule changes coming off the lockout, Ward thrived. The 2005-06 season saw Ward post career highs in goals, assists and points, on the strength of 6-19-25, a feat he credited to his time in Germany.
According to Ward, getting an opportunity to play a more wide open style on the much larger European ice surface helped condition him both physically and mentally for the “new” NHL.
“(Playing on the bigger surface) made me play with the puck. It made me keep my head up, think a little more, and work on some facets of my game that I didn’t know I’d need to call on.”
Ward likes what he sees so far from the current Bruins squad, and feels that his personality will mesh well with the makeup of young players currently playing big roles for the Black & Gold.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s a very hard working team,” said Ward. “I do (like working with younger players). I’m 34 years old, but I’m very laid back, I like to have fun and keep things relaxed.
"Sometimes a young guy will clench the stick a little too tight, but…I like to keep it loose.
“It's such a great locker room to be in, nice guys. There are so many new faces here, you don’t feel out of place at all. Sometimes it can be awkward being a new addition."
And that camaraderie is key during a playoff race.
“You want to play for each other," he said. "(And) you want to play for your organization.
"But when you feel like you’re playing for the right reasons, the team plays well.”
Ward has also gotten the opportunity to familiarize himself with a few of the other new faces that have been added to the Boston roster over the past couple of weeks.
“There are a lot of guys there (in the team hotel). It’s refreshing. You don’t feel like an outsider, you’ve got your own little team going. They’re in the same situation.”
In addition to new acquaintances, Ward already has a few old friends in the Bruins lineup and behind the bench.
“I know (GM Peter) Chiarelli, I know Dave (Lewis) from playing in Detroit, Marco from Germany during the lockout. And Jason York, I played with him in Adirondack (of the AHL).
"So, I’m familiar with a lot of the players and personalities in this locker room.”
While familiarity with his teammates, such as Sturm and his head coach has made the move to Boston easier for Aaron, driving in the city will take some getting used to, says the native of Windsor, Ontario.
“I’ve had a few problems driving my way around town,” he laughed. “It’s not a grid system like Manhattan.”
A father of two, Ward has a 10 month-old daughter and a three-and-a-half year-old son who is just starting pre-school. The Ward family makes their home near the Connecticut/New York border, less than a three-hour drive from Boston.
“Because it’s only a two and a half hour drive, they’re going to come visit every opportunity. My son is just starting school and we’ve gone from Carolina to New York now to Boston, so we’re just trying to maintain some level of stability, something familiar for him.”
As the Bruins continue to fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, Ward, and the rest of the Boston Bruins, hope that his big-game experience gives the team an extra push when they need it most. --- Joe Beare is a student at Northeastern University and works at the Sports Museum.