With the 25th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes selected a 6-foot-1, 185-pound goaltender from Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.
Just over three years later on Oct. 7, 2005, Cam Ward, then 21 years old, took to the crease for his first start in the National Hockey League. He backstopped the Hurricanes to a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, capped with consecutive stops on Mario Lemieux, Zigmund Palffy and Sidney Crosby in the shootout.
After 700 additional regular-season games, 333 additional regular-season wins and 41 playoff games - which included 23 wins, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup championship - spanning 14 seasons, Ward is hanging up his skates and setting down his goalie stick marked with his signature "Have Fun."
And he's doing so back where it all began.
"It's always been clear that Raleigh is home to us," Ward said. "And we'll continue to call it home."
Ward, already dressed for the golf course, strolled into PNC Arena around 9:30 on Wednesday morning.
He was smiling. He was home.
"It brings back a lot of great times and great feelings," Ward reflected later in the day. "I'm so thankful for the people who have helped me throughout my playing career - teammates, coaches and staff members."
Video: Cam Ward Officially Retires a Hurricane
Ward was back in the building where he spent 13 of his 14 NHL seasons to put his signature on a piece of paper, inking him to a one-day contract with the Hurricanes so he could retire from the league as a member of the organization.
"We owe him 30 bucks," Vice President of Communications and Team Services Mike Sundheim said, referring to the symbolic value of the contract.
"Ok, I can afford that," President and General Manager Don Waddell joked.
Ward then scooted out of the building to catch a 10 a.m. tee time with Justin Williams and Rod Brind'Amour.
"It's a little nerve-racking now making that transition into the unknown of what's going to take place post-career, but I know I'm surrounded by family and friends to support me," Ward said.
The decision to make that transition - to leave behind the locker room, the teammates, the lifestyle, the game he's known for nearly all his life - is one Ward is now at peace with, ready to turn the page to the next chapter of his life.
"The grind got to a point where it just hurt to play. I was able to get by on other skills of the position, but it's difficult when you step on the ice and every day your body hurts and doesn't allow you to do the things you want to do to perform at the highest level. I have high expectations of myself, and I feel like there's a responsibility when you sign with an organization to give them your best," said Ward, who played the 2018-19 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. "It just became apparent that I'm not able to train the way I was able to in previous years, and that's OK. I'm very fortunate to be able to say I played 14 years in the best league in the world."
The next chapter, of course, begins with family.
"Family is your priority number one," said Ward, father to Nolan and Nyla, who are entering grades three and one, respectively. "They obviously want dad to be around more often, and you can't buy that time back with your family. I'm fortunate to be in this situation to make this decision and be comfortable with that. I'm excited to be able to take my kids to school more often and be able to attend to all their activities and enjoy that quality time that you can't put a price on."
There will also be more time for Vineyard 36, the Napa Valley wine company Ward co-founded with teammate Tim Gleason.
And, when the time is right, Ward will probably find his way back to the game in management or coaching.
"One of the biggest things I'm going to miss about playing is being around the guys in the locker room and bouncing things off of people as far as perspective of the game," he said. "I've certainly had a lot of good times in my career, and I've had some down times. I think what comes with that is experience, and if I can pass along my experiences to help benefit other players, I think it's worth it to do that. It would be rewarding for me to try to help other people."
Until then, Ward has the opportunity to reflect on his career and the moments that cemented him in Hurricanes lore.
Video: Congratulations on your retirement, Cam
Ward, the goaltender, is the franchise record book at that position. He's the all-time leader in regular-season games played (668), minutes played (38,436), wins (318), winning percentage (.557), shutouts (27) and save (17,261). In a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009, Ward set or extended his franchise playoff records in games played (41), wins (23), shutouts (4) and saves (1,064).
Ward, the person, made an indelible mark on the Triangle community, highlighted by his "Cam's Champs" program, which began in 2006 as a means to support Special Olympics in the North Carolina. The program evolved to benefit a number of children's non-profit organizations, and his contributions over the years totaled over a half-million dollars. Additionally, his wife, Cody, was a longtime Foundation board member.
On the ice, Ward's lasting memory from his career is a given.
"Hoisting the Stanley Cup," he said. "Forever, you'll have your name on there. No one can take that away from you. Immediately you have that connection that will never go away, to the city, the organization and the players you played with throughout that year."
There are, of course, plenty of other enduring snapshots. Ward said he was proud to have played in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in front of the embrace of the home fans. He'll also forever remember the otherwise mundane midseason match in which his son skated out to join him in the crease as the starter of the game.
"It's just all the little things," said Ward, whose family will be joined by Eric Staal and his family along the North Carolina coast this weekend, timing that wasn't planned but certainly is fitting. "You're very fortunate to be in the locker room, and there are so many great moments I've shared with teammates and staff members that I'll always remember."
From Saskatoon to Sherwood Park to Red Deer to Lowell to Raleigh to Chicago and back to Raleigh once more, Ward and his No. 30 are home.
"I loved being a Hurricane," he said. "I started as a Hurricane, and I wanted to be able to leave as a Hurricane."