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Ward Thankful to Be Home

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
An emotionally honest Cam Ward faced the media after the conclusion of the 2015-16 regular season, what might have been his final locker clean-out day with the Carolina Hurricanes. An unrestricted free agent-to-be, he made clear his preference to remain with the only team he’s ever known in his 11-season NHL career.

On Thursday, a half-month before he would have hit the open market, Ward re-signed with the Hurricanes, a two-year deal worth $6.6 million.

“It was really kind of the first time in my career that I had that uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen going forward. Like I said at the end of the season, I remained hopeful and optimistic that something could be worked out where I could remain in Carolina,” Ward said. “I’m real thankful that Ron (Francis) and the organization are giving me another opportunity to stay for two more years.”

The 32-year-old netminder finished the 2015-16 season with a 23-17-10 record, a 2.41 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 52 games. His goals-against average was his second-best single-season mark of his career, and his 23 wins were the most since the 2011-12 campaign.

Most notable from last season were his numbers from Dec. 18 onward, when he tallied an NHL seventh-best 2.19 goals-against average in addition to a 14-9-7 record and a .919 save percentage in 30 games.

Ward looked back on that turn – which was the beginning of the playoff push the Hurricanes would make – and pointed to a sit-down meeting he had with head coach Bill Peters in Anaheim in early December.

“We kind of just put everything on the table. I had been doing too much thinking up until that point just because of the situation at hand,” he said. “I always find that I’m playing my best when I’m not thinking at all and am just able to go out there and play. Being able to get into a rhythm, things start clicking and you build more confidence in what you’re doing. It started to go better, and that’s the mindset that I need to have at the start of the season. Don’t put too much pressure on ourselves; just go out there and play.”

Ward is the Carolina franchise’s all-time leader in wins (269), shutouts (23) and games played by a goaltender (564). As a rookie in 2006, he backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup championship and won the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). He’s since been back to the postseason once, when the Canes made a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009, and he believes the team is close to making a long-awaited return to the playoffs.

“I think it’s a real good time to be a part of the Hurricanes. We’ve got some real good upside with the young prospects,” Ward said. “We talk about the defense that was playing in front of me last year, a crew that I’m real excited to be able to play with. They’re only going to get better, and that’s the beauty of that. And you’re seeing the team address other needs up front, getting players that they’re real excited about. It’s a matter of putting everything all together come September. The goal will remain to get back in the playoffs and fight for that Stanley Cup.”

While the Hurricanes’ front office tinkers with the team off the ice at 1400 Edwards Mill Rd., Ward has remained in Raleigh and plans to stick around for much of the summer. He’s also a regular at the rink, a few floor down, training with assistant strength coach Bill Burniston and defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

“It’s been really good so far. Billy Burniston is a tremendous guy who is going to do everything he can to get me in the best shape possible and prepare me for the upcoming season,” Ward said. “I enjoy coming to the rink every day and working in that atmosphere, which has been different for me this year. Being able to look at your stall and be in the locker room obviously helps motivate you to push harder in your workouts.”

From the Hurricanes’ side of the decision-making, bringing Ward back into the fold was evaluated against the other options available, one being trading for a goaltender. Because of “where we are and what we’re trying to build here,” Francis said, he didn’t want to acquire a goalie for one or two years and “have to give up a significant asset in order to do that.” Another option: exploring what will likely be a thin crop of free agent netminders.

“We looked at that and we thought, you know, Cam’s right there at the top of the list,” Francis said.

And for Ward, July 1 was never an appealing option.

“It never really did [interest me], to be honest. I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket, but you’ve obviously got to be mindful that if it didn’t work out, you have to think about what other options there would be,” he said. “I had a belief that something could be done. My family, we consider Raleigh home. I want to be here to play hockey, and there’s also a family side to it, too. This is where we would like to be.”

With the weight of uncertainty lifted off of his shoulders, perhaps it will be easier this season for Ward to do what he does when he’s at his best: just play – and have fun.

“I think it will be easier to not think about it, but I say that carefully because by no means will it be easy,” Ward said. “You don’t want to take your foot off the gas. I believe the hard work begins now. Knowing that the Hurricanes gave me this opportunity to come back for two years, I don’t take that lightly. I want to make sure that I do everything that I can on my end to prepare and give it my best.”

Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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