Injuries are seemingly random, occurring at unsuspecting times to unsuspecting players, which can make them a pestering source of frustration.
Cam Ward knows the feeling all too well.
After coming into training camp feeling in peak shape, Ward suffered a groin injury in Minnesota on Oct. 24, 2013, just 10 games into the season.
He returned to action in late November, playing in 11 additional games before again suffering a lower-body injury.
Not to mention, Ward is coming off a 48-game shortened season in which he missed 27 games with a knee injury he suffered in early March.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle. Mentally, to try to remain positive has been difficult for me,” Ward said. “But you stick with your faith and keep believing in what you’re doing and that things will start to turn a corner.”
The hope is that Ward, who rejoined the Canes at practice on Monday after completing a two-game conditioning stint in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers, has now indeed turned a corner.
“The first [injury] this season I rushed back. Khudobin was hurt, and Petey was playing a lot of hockey. The competitiveness in me came back a little too soon, and here I was on the shelf again two weeks later,” Ward said. “It was important this time that I took my time and made sure that I’m ready to go so that I’m not hampering the team when I’m in there.”
So that’s what the 29-year-old goaltender did. Ward backstopped the Checkers on Friday and Saturday in Lake Erie, stopping 59 of 63 shots (.937 save percentage) and posting a 1-1 record (the Checkers were shut out in the loss).
“The reality is that I haven’t been able to play a whole lot of hockey,” Ward said. “Without putting the team in jeopardy by throwing me out there when the games mean so much like they do right now, it was best that I went down there and got in a couple good games. I felt really comfortable.”
“The nice thing is that he’s healthy now,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He had a couple good games [with Charlotte], and it shows that he is ready to go, which is a good thing.”
Outfitted in new Vaughn equipment, Ward responded well to a full practice on Monday after logging two straight 60-minute games over the weekend.
“I feel great. I told Pete that this was probably the best practice that I had and the best my body has felt,” Ward said. “I felt really fluid out there today like my old self.”
Not feeling like his old self due to injuries has been the struggle for Ward. Due to a work stoppage and injuries, Ward has logged just 36 games since the end of the 2011-12 season.
“I’ve always tried to get myself in the best shape possible, and sometimes it’s just out of your own hands,” Ward said. “There are no real answers. We play a tough sport for a profession, and you put your body in awkward spots, especially with the position I play.”
Frustration can easily – and understandably – set in.
“I can’t express enough how frustrating it’s been. You don’t have to reiterate that. That’s a no-brainer,” Ward said. “I want to be in the net. I want to be able to play to my capabilities. I feel like my body has turned me into a little bit of a shell lately. That’s why it’s important that I get 100 percent and feel good.”
In Ward’s absence, Anton Khudobin has appeared in 14 straight games, starting in 13 of those. In that time, Khudobin posted a 10-4-0 record and was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month for January.
“You need your goaltenders, especially at this time in the season, to be playing well. There’s no question that Dobby has been playing really good hockey,” Ward said. “I’m happy for him and happy that he’s given this team a chance to win. We’ll try to do it together moving forward.”
“We’re partners, and if we’re going to rotate or whatever and get the same result, it will be great,” Khudobin said.
Now that Ward is healthy, the only question that remains is when he will see a start in goal. On tap before the Olympic break is a game against Winnipeg on Tuesday followed by a back-to-back set at home versus Florida and Montreal.
“We’ll make a decision tomorrow on who will be the starter,” Muller said, concerning Tuesday’s game against the Jets.
“I’m ready to rock and roll, whenever they give me that opportunity. I understand that Khudobin is playing exceptionally well and giving this team every chance to win every night,” Ward said. “I’m going to just be patient with waiting for that next opportunity, and when I get it, try to take advantage of it and help this team win.”