Joel Ward, the ninth black player in Washington Capitals' franchise history, was back in town this weekend to help the Capitals celebrate Black History Month.
Ward played four seasons with the Caps dating back to the 2011-12 season when he became one of the all-time fan favorites in Washington, D.C. for scoring one of the biggest goals in Caps history against the Bruins.
For Joel, it was a weekend filled with meaningful activities for the former NHL player who currently still lives in San Jose after a three-season stint with the Sharks.
The festivities kicked off with a visit to the Washington Wizards game Friday night where he participated in a pregame ceremony at the Wizards' African American Heritage Night.
He also got the chance to re-connect with Bradley Beal and John Wall on the court before the game who gave Joel an official NBA Black History shooting shirt.
Saturday morning, Ward made a visit to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture which opened in 2016 after Ward had already left the Caps. It was Joel's first time seeing the museum and its historical exhibits including one to his sports hero Jackie Robinson, whom he wore #42 in Washington in honor of.
Later on, Joel got to take advantage of a beautiful February day and participated in a street hockey clinic at Watkins Rec Center. Kids from Fort Dupont's D.C. Cannons attended the clinic and Ward was reunited with coach Neal Henderson.
Ward developed a very strong and close relationship over the years with Henderson, thanks to their shared work with Washington, D.C. minorities in the game of hockey.
"Words can't describe Neal. What an unbelievable human being. He devotes his life to kids and over my years here I got see how Neal Henderson is a father figure, a brother, and an uncle and just wants to provide a safe place for kids to play hockey," Ward said. "The world needs more Neal Hendersons."
Finally, it was Sunday and time for the Black History Game. Ward was invited by head coach Todd Reirden to read the starting lineup to the team in the locker room where he was finally reunited with his former teammates.
Video: Joel Ward Reads the Lines
He was then welcomed to the ice with captains Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for the ceremonial puck drop.
Video: Joel Ward Ceremonial Puck Drop
"When I got asked to do it [drop the puck], I was surprised but it was a huge honor for me to represent for Black History Month for the Caps," he said. "It's been somewhat emotional to be back and see everybody."
Ward feels strongly about trying to change the narrative around racism in the game of hockey. He himself faced many instances of racism during his NHL playing days and is a prominent face for the Hockey is For Everyone movement.
"I think obviously there's a lot of issues that have been going on with hockey especially, and to be here and make awareness has been huge," Ward said. "Obviously racism has been a heavy topic too, so this is just my chance to give back and celebrate Black History Month here."
We look forward to having Joel back in D.C. for more events with our Alumni group in the future.