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End of an Era

Ward leaves indelible mark on Hurricanes, community

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

April 4, 2004.

That was the last time the Carolina Hurricanes played a game in which, injuries aside, Cam Ward was not on the team's roster.

Oct. 4, 2018 -- exactly 174 months or 5,296 days later -- will be the next.

As free agency opened at noon on Sunday, curtains fell on an era in Raleigh. Ward, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's unfortunate that things didn't pan out," Ward said on a conference call. "I had always imagined myself retiring as a Hurricane and playing my whole career there, but with that being said, this has opened the door for a new opportunity and challenge for me, and I'm excited to see what comes out of it."

The Hurricanes made the decision to move forward with a goaltending tandem of Scott Darling, who is hoping to rebound in year two of a four-year contract, and Petr Mrazek, signed to a one-year deal on Sunday. Ward, though uncertain what the future held, made the decision to move forward with his career.

Video: Thank You, Cam Ward

"Cam Ward has been a great player for this franchise," Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell said. "Cam will never be forgotten in this organization."

"This is all new to me. This is the first time I've ever been a UFA in my career, so I really didn't know what to expect. I went through the week prior when teams can contact you and do the interview process. I was humbled by the number of teams that were reaching out and showing interest," Ward said. "I've got a family, a wife and two kids, and they're obviously the No. 1 priority. I wanted to go to a place that we all would feel comfortable in going to."

Sunday's news brought emotional finality to an era that began with a 25th overall pick in 2002 and ended 668 games and 13 seasons later. It didn't necessarily come as a surprise, though.

Reports of Ward signing with Chicago surfaced during the interview period, and the Hurricanes had made pretty well clear their intentions. Flip the calendar back to April 7, after the Canes bested the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime in the season finale. Ward was given the postgame honor, a combat vest with "TEAM" stitched on the back, by his teammates, and he spoke candidly, both to them and to the cameras shortly after.

"I had a lot of fun this year coming to play with you guys," he told the room. "We got a great group here, and way to finish it on a good note with an OT win. We'll see what happens, and all the best to everybody."

Tweet from @NHLCanes: Wardo gets the postgame honor! #Canes pic.twitter.com/9Ez1x6vhji

"I'm human. I've been here for 13 years, and it's no secret that my contract is up," he said in his postgame media scrum. "The uncertainty and unknown of what's going to happen can be scary at times."

The goaltending section of the franchise record book belongs to Ward, who is the Hurricanes all-time leader in games played (668), wins (318), minutes played (38,436) and shutouts (27). He also owns the franchise records for saves in a game (57) and win streak (9).

Ward shown especially bright during the postseason. In 41 career playoff games with the Canes, Ward posted a 23-18 record, a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, and he's got a Conn Smythe - won as a rookie, no less - and a Stanley Cup to his name.

READ -- ARCHIVES: WARD HAVING FUN AGAIN

The images from Ward's career in Carolina are numerous. One rises above the rest, forever frozen in the pantheon of great moments in franchise history: Ward's outstretched left pad, desperately denying Fernando Pisani's game-tying bid in the waning minutes of Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. The rest, of course, is history.

Ward was so much more than a goaltender for the Hurricanes. His community involvement was highlighted by his "Cam's Champs" program, which began in 2006 as a way for him to support Special Olympics in North Carolina. In the early years of the program, Ward donated money for each save he made and hosted Special Olympics North Carolina athletes and their families in a suite at select games. The program evolved to host a variety of non-profit children's organizations in an all-inclusive suite for each Hurricanes home game, and Ward's contributions over the years totaled over a half-million dollars. Additionally, his wife, Cody, served on the Kids 'N Community Foundation board.

"Cam as a person, there's no better. He's one of the best guys I've been around," Waddell said. "We all know what he's meant to this organization and community."

Ward will make his return to PNC Arena, this time as a member of the opposition, when the Blackhawks make their first and only visit to Raleigh in the 2018-19 season on Monday, Nov. 12. One day, after he's hung up the skates and called it a career, the No. 30 will likely grace the rafters at PNC Arena.

Until then, a new chapter began on Sunday for both Ward and the Hurricanes.

But, it's not goodbye. It's see you later.

"I'm going to miss everybody that I came across and everybody that supported me along the way. It's a long time to be with one organization, and I certainly wish that we had more success in making the playoffs, but it wasn't for a lack of effort and trying. I felt like I gave everything I could possibly give to the organization, and I also feel that they gave me every opportunity. I'm very thankful and appreciative of that," Ward said. "There's a reason I call Raleigh home. That plan doesn't change. I will forever call it home."

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