As a sports fan, it’s easy to become jaded when it comes to individual awards and achievements. During Week 17 of the NFL season, it seemed like there was more talk about contract clauses than about wins and losses. We were told to watch to see whether Player A would get 73 yards to hit his yardage incentive, of if Player B could make five more catches so his last check of the season included that extra bonus. It’s also sometimes hard to swallow certain athletes’ reactions to All-Star selections, when guys complain that they’d rather have the time off to rest than be honored in a league event designed to showcase a sport’s brightest stars.
When it comes to Cam Ward, that won’t be a problem. As far as I know, there is no monetary incentive in Cam’s contract for making the All-Star Game. And he most certainly won’t complain that he’d rather take a trip to the Caribbean than represent his team during the National Hockey League’s big weekend in Raleigh. From the first day of training camp this season, it was clear in talking to Cam, watching him prepare and watching him play that he had his eye on the 58th NHL All-Star Game. Not for money. But for himself, his family and his fans.
It’s been another big year for Cam, who is still only 26 years old. He was already a Stanley Cup Champion. A Conn Smythe winner. A World Champion. This year he became a father. And he wanted to be an All-Star.
It made for a long day Monday. We had some pretty solid hints that Cam had achieved his goal. But we spent the day waiting for the final, official word, and the green light for Jim Rutherford to give Cam the good news. It came late in the day, and in speaking to him moments later, it was clear how meaningful All-Star Weekend will be for the Canes netminder. He desperately wanted to be on the ice at the RBC Center on January 30, wearing an All-Star sweater in front of his home crowd – his Caniacs. And now he will be.
And he deserves to be. Cam currently ranks second in the NHL in saves (1025), fourth in games played (34), fourth in minutes (1954) and seventh in the NHL in save percentage. He has 17 of the Canes’ 20 victories. He has suffered just four regulation losses in his last 19 games, with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage during that span. He has made more than 40 saves five times this season, and won in four of those five games. He is one of the main two pillars upon which the Hurricanes are built, the man with the most wins in franchise history both in the regular season and the playoffs. And, yeah, he’s the one who was named first star in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 19, 2006, and got to raise a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup at the conclusion of that one.
For his part, the other big Canes cornerstone is thrilled to be heading to the All-Star Game in his “home city” too. For Eric Staal, it will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, something no other player in franchise history has accomplished. As my PR partner-in-crime Kyle Hanlin pointed out last week, Eric has been involved in a mid-season NHL “event” every season since his rookie year – whether it was a YoungStars Game, an All-Star Game or an Olympics. And from the day Raleigh was awarded the 2011 All-Star Game, Eric has spoken seemingly every day about the thrill of playing in an All-Star Game in front of his own fans.
But on Monday, even he seemed more interested in hearing about his teammate. Maybe it was because it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Eric would be there again. Maybe it was because only Eric truly understands Cam’s position, as the other player with the weight of a team on his shoulders night-in-and-night-out. Or maybe he just wanted to hear good news about his friend.
So when we talked Monday about potential plans for the announcement, Eric first asked if I had heard anything about Cam. And in response to a congratulatory text message after both players had finally heard the official word from Mr. Rutherford, Eric’s reply was simply: “Thanks. Glad Cam will be there too. Well deserved.”
All-Star Weekend is bound to be special for any of us connected with the organization, from the players to the front office to the fans. It’s our chance to show off our building, our city and our tremendous supporters. And we now know that we also get to show off our two cornerstone players, and the 18-year-old kid quickly working his way into that elite group. What a scene it will be at the RBC Center, when those names are read over the loudspeakers.
And how nice it is to know that moment is what it’s all about for the Hurricanes All-Stars being introduced. It’s for themselves, for their families and for their fans.